Though the board listened last week to a presentation from the food service contractor, and agreed to visit a facility the company serves in Huntsville, Ala., final decisions are at least eight months away, the sheriff said.
“We already have a list of several contractors who want to make presentations,” said Sheriff Charles Rinehart.
Along with food service, the officials will consider proposals for jail operations, health care, phones and other services, he said.
“This contractor is not local, but promised to buy local when they can if it is competitive, and I appreciate that,” Rinehart said. “I must stay within my budget, but I’m also concerned about using local people.”
Rinehart also worries that using an outside vendor might yield a lower cost for the contract, but the contractor would not be paying state retirement benefits, health insurance, vacation and sick leave, even if they hire local.
“I don’t like that,” Rinehart said. “I have compassion for my employees, and even if the contractor hired them, they might end up with less benefits.”
The economics of jail operations is a specialty of Irb Benjamin of Jail Development Management & Consulting. He has been a resource for the county throughout the regional jail development process.
“Most times we go into jails run with their own staff,” Benjamin said. “The cost is usually pretty good buying supplies from vendors and hiring a kitchen manager to prepare the food with inmate labor.”
Some operations use contractors, Benjamin said, but with their for-profit orientation, the county often can save more by hiring the employees.
Benjamin’s company has contracts in several counties for management only, working with the them in areas such as staffing, training and developing menus, while the sheriffs continue to manage their staffs.
“We’ll be taking a look at regional jails in different places and hope to learn from their mistakes,” Rinehart said.