CARLTON COUNTY BOARD: County OKs comprehensive jail study
It’s no secret that the Carlton County Jail is aging, inefficient and frequently overcrowded. It’s also no secret that many of the people who spend time at that jail often make return visits, and mental illness and addiction are more often to blame than inborn criminal tendencies.
It’s what to do to solve those issues that is unknown.
To help figure that out, Carlton County Commissioners voted unanimously during their Monday meeting to fund a jail needs assessment study to the tune of $66,745.
It was a higher price than expected, Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake told the commissioners, but stressed that she and other members of Carlton County Justice Partners thought the proposal from Wold Architects and Dr. Alan Beck of Justice Concepts Inc. will help the county plan for the next 20-30 years, in ways that go beyond simple bricks and mortar.
“The more money we spend on the front end to get the planning correct, the more money we’ll save on the back end,” Jail Administrator Paul Coughlin told the board. “We don’t want to build a jail that’s too big, that’s not being utilized for programs, and we certainly have to build something we can afford to manage and run and staff. But we also have to be able to afford the programs that will help keep people out of jail.”
Coughlin said many of the jail intakes are related to addiction issues, or crimes that can be attributed to drug/alcohol issues.
In her 25 years with the Carlton County Sheriff’s Office, Lake said there has never been a study that looked as deeply at the inmate population as this one proposes to do: what type of inmates are coming in, what types of crimes are being committed, what the county can do to keep the inmates from coming back as well as long-term trends and predictions.
Rather most studies — at least three from the National Institute of Corrections (NIC) — looked at the physical jail and how the jail operates from a very broad viewpoint, “the 30,000-foot view” in a day and a half, Lake said.
The Carlton County Jail was built in 1979 and expanded in 1982 to make room for more beds. The 48-bed facility includes a 12-bed work release area and is located adjacent to the Carlton County Courthouse.
An NIC study done in 2015 noted that the linear layout of the jail was outmoded, even when it was being built back in the 1970s.
Housing assignments are another major issue, according to the NIC study. Because of a lack of space, sometimes people end up together who ideally should not be, such as a gang member paired with a citizen brought in for drunken driving.
Overpopulation of the jail has been an issue. As recently as 2011 the daily average population was 64 inmates, while in 2014 it was 40. The highest number of inmates in 2014 was 58 and the lowest was 27. In 2013, total bookings were 1,537 and 1,495 in 2014. In 2015, total bookings reached 1,653, and the average daily population was 35.79, the lowest ADP in nearly a decade.
The jail also lacks programming space.
Ultimately, the 2015 annual Minnesota Department of Corrections inspection of the Carlton County Jail noted the following: “based upon information reviewed during the inspection, and the fact that the number of boarded inmates out of county has been steady and at times high, it is strongly recommended that Carlton County begin long term planning for the future public safety needs of the county. This may include significant remodeling and renovation to the current facility or the planning process for a new facility. It does not appear that the current facility is meeting the overall public safety needs of the county.”
The county was asked to submit a written plan for the future of the Carlton County jail to the facility inspector by June 1, 2016. In the written plan submitted to the inspector, Lake outlined the process of working towards a comprehensive Jail Needs Assessment study to allow for strategic long-term planning of the needs of the Carlton County Jail.
When Commissioner Tom Proulx asked Lake where she suggested the money for the study come from, she said her department did not have the money in its budget.
“I know it’s a lot of money, but we have to do something with our jail,” she said.
During the money discussion, Public Health and Human Services Director Dave Lee suggested that, since some of the planning would involve mental health and chemical dependency services, it would be appropriate to use some of the PHHS reserves.
Commissioner Marv Bodie was astounded by the offer.
PHHS accounting supervisor Kevin DeVriendt responded: “Your clients are our clients,” he said to Lake. “The reality is we’re serving the same people.”
Lake said the results of the jail needs assessment are expected by April 2017.