Job-seekers stream into Hardin prison

2014-04-16T16:40:00Z 2014-04-17T15:24:04Z Job-seekers stream into Hardin prisonBy MIKE FERGUSON mferguson@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

HARDIN — Doyle Jones brought 200 blank applications for job-seekers at the Two Rivers Detention Facility.

Two hours into Wednesday’s job fair, she had distributed every one of them. A colleague from Emerald Correctional Management quickly photocopied more, and Jones resumed her work greeting a steady stream of applicants by mid-morning Wednesday.

Beginning in June, the Lafayette, La.-based company plans to manage a program at the long-vacant prison. The 464-bed prison, constructed in 2007 for $27 million, has been without inmates since it was built.

Two Rivers Authority, the city of Hardin's economic development authority, has explored many potential uses for the prison, including a 2009 plan to possibly house enemy combatants from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

There was also a plan proposed by someone who turned out to be a convicted con artist to use the facility as a military training camp.

Emerald Correctional Management is working on an agreement to provide therapeutic services to Bureau of Indian Affairs inmates and hopes to eventually fill the prison, said Jones, who works for the firm that operates six facilities in Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.

After the Two Rivers facility is up and running, the company will be managing 4,500 beds in what will soon be the seven facilities it manages.

Before the Two Rivers program can begin, the company needs to hire and train about 115 people, including correctional officers, clerical workers, kitchen staff, maintenance, drivers who hold a commercial driver’s license, social workers and health providers, including registered nurses, emergency medical technicians and licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses.

A quick scan of the large stack of early applicants suggested many had the kind of skills the company is looking for, Jones said.

“People seemed excited about the chance to get to work,” she said. “They’re happy something is being done.”

Toni Swanson, 43, a Billings resident and a full-time criminal justice student taking online courses from the University of Phoenix, applied for a correctional officer position. She said she has about a year of experience as a correctional officer and has worked as a paralegal.

Swanson said Emerald officials treated her “really nicely” and that she hoped to receive a call back within two weeks for a follow-up interview — and, of course, a job offer.

“I’m excited,” she said,.

Jones said she planned to return to Louisiana on Thursday with her large stack of paperwork. The applicants who receive an interview and are offered a position must also pass a drug test and a background check. Nearly all of the people hired will be age 21 and older, many with work experience that correlates with the positions they seek. Jones said a variety of people of all ages showed up for the job fair Wednesday.

She said pay levels have not yet been finalized. They will be announced when applicants receive job offers, she said.

“We are going to hire as many local people as possible,” she said.

After she warmly greeted applicants in the prison lobby Wednesday — “I’m a talker,” she said with a laugh — Jones would hand each person an application packet, then look it over after it was completed.

Some applicants benefited from even a cursory look at their paperwork. One woman who applied for a kitchen position noted on her application that she has maintained her commercial driver’s license. “I had to ask her, ‘Would you be interested in driving for us?’ ” Jones said.

Emerald Correctional Management will keep applications on file in case there’s some initial turnover at Two Rivers. “This kind of work isn’t for everyone,” Jones said. “A little bit of initial turnover is inevitable.”

To learn more about Emerald Correctional Management, visit www.emeraldcompanies.com/emerald_correctional.html.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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