Weather Forecast


Jail study completed, ready for next step

An aerial view of the Carlton County Courthouse, the county jail and Carlton High School. Photo submitted1 / 3
One of seven single-inmate cells at the Carlton County jail. File photo/Jamie Lund/Pine Journal2 / 3
The kitchen was built to cook for 24 people, but currently the average daily inmate count is much higher. File photo/Jamie Lund/Pine Journal3 / 3

Carlton County is one step closer to a decision about replacing its outdated jail with a new facility.

The final report of the Carlton County Jail & Criminal Justice System Planning Study was presented at the Carlton County Committee of the Whole on Dec. 5.

According to the study, there are three phases in new jail development: planning, design and construction. The study was just the first step of the planning phase.

Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake was not surprised by the information in the report.

"The criminal justice system stakeholders have been working on implementing some of the recommendations in the study already," Lake said.

A new facility would mean increased safety for employees who work 12 hour shifts there, as well as the inmates.

Although the jail has been taken care of, it was built almost 40 years ago and has a lot of wear and tear. The old jail has several problem areas, from overcrowding of the prisoners, old parts wearing out and some inmates need to be sent to be housed at other facilities, costing the taxpayers money.

The outdated parts can't be replaced when they break, as companies no longer make them. There is not enough room to store all of the food in the kitchen, leaving some stored in hallways. The control room is used for other purposes other than the one it was originally designed for, which creates a security risk.

The assessment study done in 2015 discovered the jail was overcrowded and inefficient.

The original jail was built in 1979 and expanded in 1982 to make room for more beds. Although there are 48 beds, the operational capacity is for 38 beds. There are only 17 individual cells and the rest of the beds are set up in two summer camp-style rooms.

Boarding costs adding up

According to the newly completed study, jails in the region surrounding Carlton County have experienced overcrowding during the last five years also. As a result, Carlton County inmates have been transported further away to Aitkin, Mille Lacs or Douglas counties to be housed.

The average cost to board an inmate out can range from $45-$55 per day, depending on the facility. There is also the transportation costs back and forth from the facility. Not only does the inmate need to be transported to a place to stay, but if they have a court appearance they need extra transporting.

While the costs of boarding in 2015 was only $33,175, it had topped out at $352,712 in 2012. From 2006 to 2015, Carlton County paid more than $1.6 million to other facilities to house Carlton County inmates.

The new study forecasts the jail would need on average 77 beds to house inmates in 2020 and 86 beds by 2025, with needs increasing every five years until 2040 when a need for 111 beds is forecasted.

The study notes that the design of the project will also be affected by the Minnesota Department of Corrections staffing regulations that specify one correctional officer for each 24 inmates.

The study points out that the operational costs are the greatest costs of jails. Because of this, an inefficiently designed jail will cost the county more than it should once it is opened.

The new study compared Carlton County to other similar-sized Minnesota counties. They compared county population size, number of admissions to jail, ratio of jail admissions to county population size, peak jail populations (not including inmates from other jails) and total bed capacity. The study notes it is important to remember to take into account the future needs of the jail down the road.

Opioid-related crimes attributed to intake increase

Criminal activity will not be going away. There has been an increase of opioid crimes over the last several years throughout the U.S. Between 1999 and 2014, Carlton County was one of the six top Minnesota counties with overdose deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

About 45 percent of the prisoners at the jail are from outside of Carlton County.

In 2017 Carlton County Jail had 1,826 inmates booked, a record for the jail.

"We had another 10 percent increase in felony offenders for a total of 888 intakes in 2017, which was the largest amount on record," Paul Coughlin, Carlton County Jail administrator, said.

The Star Tribune in Minneapolis published stories in 2016 and 2017 about the increase of drugs coming into Minnesota.

According to the jail study, in 2016, state law-enforcement agencies seized a record 488 pounds of methamphetamine, which has more than doubled since 2015.

More than 400 meth labs were shut down in the 2000s. In 2013, 13 labs were discovered and closed down because of increased regulations of the sale of pseudoephedrine.

Law enforcement has been seizing more prescription pills than ever before. In 2016, 58,000 pills were seized during busts, which is more than three times the amount in 2015.

New jail part of long-term strategy

With the large influx of drugs coming into Minnesota and Carlton County, prisoners will continue to need to be lodged somewhere.

"We have a small group that will work on presenting ideas moving forward as how to implement some of the larger recommendations which will take more time based on the scope of work, tracking the progress and reporting the progress to the County Board," Lake said. "The smaller group will bring forward ideas to the Carlton County Justice Partners at the end of February. They will decide what to ultimately bring to the County Board of Commissioners."

She added one idea could include hiring a consultant to oversee the implementations in the study.

The building of a new jail facility is just one part of the study and the long-term strategy. Implementation of treatment programs to help lower the odds of inmates making repeat appearances at the jail is one way to help lower jail population.