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Guards Convicted of Stealing, Bringing Drugs into Washington State Private Jail

by Matthew T. Clarke

Security Specialists Plus (SSP) is a 60-employee firm operating out of Bellingham, Washington?s Irongate industrial area. It provides animal control services to unincorporated parts of Whatcom County, hires out private security guards, and serves legal documents. It also has a contract to incarcerate about 50 of the county?s prisoners at its Baker Creek Place private jail. The minimum-security prisoners are in work-release programs or on the county?s prisoner work crews. The 13-year-old, approximately $500,000-per-year jail operation has recently come under scrutiny due to several problems, including a guard who smuggled marijuana into the facility, a guard who stole money from a prisoner and a guard with multiple felony convictions.

On August 3, 2006, SSP guard Joshua Oscar Caleb Kulsrud, 25, was arrested by deputies at the jail on suspicion of smuggling tobacco to prisoners. When his backpack was searched, the deputies discovered marijuana. During questioning Kulsrud admitted that he intentionally failed to monitor prisoners when they provided urine samples for drug screening tests.

Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo said Kulsrud?s actions were lazy, negligent and incompetent, and not due to bribes from prisoners. Kulsrud pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana the day after he was arrested and was sentenced to one day in jail.

On March 2, 2006, a prisoner reported the theft of $225 from his personal locker. A videotape that would have recorded the incident had been tampered with. Later, Michael Gregory McLeod, 25, the SSP guard who was on duty when the money was stolen, admitted taking more than $100 from the prisoner?s locker and using it to buy gas and groceries. He pleaded guilty in district court to a theft charge and was given a one year deferred sentence, fined $200 and ordered to do 16 hours of community service.

Other problems at the privately-run jail include the discovery that a SSP guard had multiple felony convictions and a female guard made ?vulgar references? around male prisoners. Both guards are no longer supervising prisoners. Deputies have also discovered illegal drugs during inspections of the jail. SSP did not clarify whether any of the guards mentioned in this article were fired.

On August 23, 2006, Sheriff Elfo sent a letter to SSP instructing the company to improve its performance at the jail or risk losing its lucrative contract. The letter also suggested that SSP conduct basic background checks on its employees. A loophole in Washington law allowed the company to hire guards without requiring such checks.

While Whatcom County Jail employees undergo exhaustive background checks that include lie detector and psychological tests, apparently any warm body is good enough for SSP. ?When you have people charged with the responsibility of others in that type of situation you have to be sure their integrity and professionalism are beyond reproach,? Sheriff Elfo stated.

In response to these criticisms, in September, 2006 the company hired Dave Wareing, a former Whatcom County Undersheriff and county deputy administrator, to conduct an audit of its operations.

Regardless of improvement, SSP?s contract to house Whatcom County prisoners may be short-lived. The county opened a new interim jail in December 2006 with an additional 155 beds, and long-term plans call for eventually moving the work-release prisoners back to county control.

Source: Bellingham Herald

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