Census numbers, Legislature raise concerns for WEC

Friday, August 15, 2003

A declining census and the Judiciary Committee meeting scheduled for October are a cause for concern for Raleigh Haas, McCook Work Ethic Camp superintendent.

"I'm going to be going to Lincoln in a couple of weeks," said Haas. "I'll be pounding on some doors."

The census is at a six- month low at 73, according to the report given to the Work Ethic Camp Community Involvement Committee Wednesday.

Recalling the near-panic brought on by budget cuts earlier in the year, Haas encouraged a watchful preparedness and ongoing efforts to educate judges, probation officers and Nebraska Senators about the benefits the Work Ethic Camp brings.

A number of those benefits were detailed by Dr. Don Marchant, superintendent of McCook Public Schools.

Camp offenders have worked through the summer months at the various school sites, helping move teachers, books, even entire classrooms in the course of the realignment of classes within the district.

"Without fail, the supervision of the offenders was impeccable," said Marchant. "The offenders were diligent and the work was done with obvious pride."

Marie Owen, director of the McCook Area Chamber of Commerce, echoed Marchant's praise and both Owen and Marchant remarked on the cost savings to taxpayers from the labor provided by offenders.

Haas noted that the prevailing impression of those who have not yet seen the camp is that it is a "boot camp" atmosphere. "This is a community corrections facility," he stressed.

"The evaluation from the University of Nebraska at Kearney will go a long way to alleviate that (boot camp) impression," said Haas. "But that evaluation is a three-year process."

The study will look at cost effectiveness, the intake procedures, the programs, the staff, as well as the offenders. Offenders will be tracked from intake, at discharge and in the weeks and months following discharge to gauge the long-term effectiveness of the program.

Leanne Miller, administrative assistant at the Work Ethic Camp, gave a report on the outcome of the internal Nebraska Department of Corrections audit completed in late May. The internal audit takes a close-up view of the policies and procedures in place, ensuring that the facility will be ready for the accreditation audit Sept. 22 and 23.

"They looked at everything we do," said Miller. As a result of that audit, which earned an overall score of 96, Miller reported that the staff feels confident of the outcome of the accreditation audit.

Representatives of the Nebraska Department of Game and Parks passed around a photograph showing a fish habitat being constructed. The Game and Fish Department will be working with WEC offenders to create similar habitats at Southwest Nebraska area lakes.

Attending the meeting were Leanne Miller, WEC administrative assistant; Dr. Don Marchant, superintendent of McCook Public Schools; Dennis Berry, McCook Public School, Economic Development Corps., McCook Area Chamber of Commerce; Darrol Eichner, Nebraska Game and Parks Department; John Kilpatrick, Nebraska Game and Parks Department; Leigh Hoyt, Red Willow County Commissioner; Cindy Fritsche, WEC food service; Kim McConville, WEC administration; G. Bates, WEC public information; Sgt. Greg Dankloff, WEC security; Raleigh Haas, WEC superintendent; Dawn Cribbs, McCook Daily Gazette; Marie Owen, McCook Area Chamber of Commerce. Drill tests readiness

Emergency personnel from four agencies responded to a fire drill Thursday at the McCook Work Ethic Camp.

The emergency preparedness exercise was conducted to test the readiness of the facility and local resources. The McCook Fire Department, McCook Volunteer Fire and Rescue, the Red Willow County Sheriff's Department, the Nebraska State Patrol and the McCook Daily Gazette participated in the exercise.

At about 9:30 a.m., an electrical fire, complete with a smoke machine, was simulated in the mechanical area of the facility. The drill was a surprise to all of the staff except for a few members who planned the exercise. Local agencies were contacted prior to the exercise, but responded as though the situation were an actual emergency.

Facility staff initiated emergency evacuation procedures to ensure the safety of personnel and offenders and immediately conducted an emergency count to account for every offender and staff member.

The exercise was a part of continuing readiness training at the Work Ethic Camp. More exercises simulating a variety of potential emergency scenarios will be conducted periodically.

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