Jail overcrowding challenges county finances, resourcesCarlton County has an average of some 30 inmates boarded at other facilities on any given day, though that number has soared as high as 42. The price tag is a hefty $191,000 in boarding fees this year through the month of September, in addition to transport costs, medications and personnel reimbursements.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
On Monday, 27 inmates from Carlton County were boarded out to correctional facilities in other counties because the local jail was full.
According to Sheriff Kelly Lake, that pretty much follows the trend for the year, with an average of some 30 inmates boarded at other facilities on any given day, though that number has soared as high as 42. The price tag is a hefty $191,000 in boarding fees this year through the month of September, in addition to transport costs, medications and personnel reimbursements.
Lake addressed the overcrowding issue before the Carlton County Board members at their adjourned session on Monday, requesting permission to bring together all of the county’s criminal justice partners to “see what we can do to make the system more efficient.”
“There is a significant number of partners that need to be at the table,” said Lake, citing representation from the county attorney’s office, public defenders, courts, law enforcement and corrections. She also requested that newly appointed county coordinator Dennis Genereau, a former assistant county attorney, be part of the discussions.
Lake said the county currently boards inmates at Mille Lacs, Pine and occasionally Aitkin counties in Minnesota as well as Douglas County in Wisconsin. She said the cost of boarding an inmate in Douglas County is currently $45 daily plus reimbursement for medications. She added that staff there will provide inmate pickup one time as part of the contract, but that is the limit.
“If an inmate has to be transported back to Carlton for a court hearing,” she said, “it is up to our own personnel to take care of it, and at our own expense.”
Likewise, Mille Lacs County officials will transport inmates only one time as part of each individual $40-a-day boarding contract in that county.
“We’ve only been sending inmates there who have already been sentenced because it costs too much to transport an inmate back and forth for court appearances from that far away,” said Lake.
The cost of boarding Carlton County inmates in Mille Lacs County during the month of September totaled $3,200 plus $1,300 in medication costs, reported Lake. During the month of August, Carlton County paid
$5,000 to Pine County for inmate boarding as well as $600 in medication costs. To board one lone inmate in Aitkin in the month of September cost $2,000, as well as $600 in medication costs.
Commissioner Ted Pihlman questioned how Carlton County transports its inmates to outside facilities, and Lake replied that the recent purchase of a transport van has helped streamline the process, making it not only possible to transport several inmates at one time but also transport men and women at the same time, which is not possible when utilizing a squad car.
Generau, who was in attendance at Monday’s meeting, suggested to board members that a committee charged with addressing the overcrowding issue should explore “as many operating efficiencies as possible on as many fronts as possible” in order to do what needs to be done to keep costs at a minimum.
“We would have to look at such things as whether inmates get in and out of court in a timely way and perhaps explore an overall shift in the way we do business,” said Genereau.
“We will have to look internally for system-wide solutions,” she stated.
Pihlman suggested a solution might be to consider an addition to the county’s local jail rather than spending all that money on boarding inmates outside the county. Lake reminded commissioners that a county space needs study a couple of years ago came up with a suggested plan for such a jail addition but at that time the board didn’t consider it a top priority, adding that it might be something that should be readdressed if the current situation persists.
Pihlman also asked if the county might need to reconsider just who actually needs to be incarcerated. Lake said if a committee is formed to address the overcrowding issue, members will certainly address such options as electronic monitoring and work release programs, qualifying that by adding, “There are some people who do need to be in jail.”
The board unanimously supported the formation of a committee to study the overcrowding issue.
In other business, commissioners were divided by a vote of 3-1 in approving a request for a $10,000 economic development loan to the Hawk Shop LLC of Barnum. County Economic Development Director Pat Oman told commissioners that two members of the County Economic Development Authority voted against recommending the board approve the loan, largely because the thrift store is considering becoming a pawn shop and has indicated it may apply for a license to handle firearms as well. Pihlman, who cast the dissenting board vote, indicated that he believes pawn shops often lead to the need for additional law enforcement and appealed to Sheriff Lake for her opinion. She agreed that law enforcement often has to become involved if illegally obtained merchandise is pawned. She added that there is currently no ordinance in Barnum to regulate pawn shop activity. Such an ordinance, she said, generally means the shop subscribes to the statewide automated pawn shop system, allowing law enforcement to monitor what is pawned and by whom. She said she has discussed the matter with Barnum officials and may eventually look at proposing a county-wide ordinance as well.
Oman presented an update on the planning process for a light industrial and residential development on county-owned land south of Highway 210 in Twin Lakes Township. He said his office is ready to bring the final Environmental Assessment Worksheet for the project to the board, which he said will probably happen within the next couple of weeks. After that it will go on to the state agencies for review.
Once the environmental work receives final approval, the platting will begin, followed by land construction sometime during 2012 if all goes well.
On a related matter, Oman introduced Jim Nynas of the Soil and Water Conservation District, indicating that the SWCD as well as the Extension Office and possibly Twin Lakes Township have indicated an interest in the construction of a public building in the vicinity of the County Transportation Building that could house office and meeting space for those entities. Oman said space issues have already been discussed as well as various funding mechanisms, though he admitted “it is going to take some kind of investment” on behalf of the county to make it happen. He said housing those offices would provide some $5,000 in “swing funds,” which he said should help fund the debt service on such a building.
Nynas said the SWCD would like to see a conceptual drawing of the proposed building in order to compare costs with their current rent payments.
“We are looking to see it move forward,” he stated.
The board took no action on the matter but agreed to have Oman present a more thorough overview of the proposal at a future meeting.