Following a presentation on the state of the Carlton County Jail, the Carlton County Board of Commissioners voted to inform the Minnesota Department of Corrections that it would like to move forward on building a new facility.

During the jail update Monday, April 22, Sheriff Kelly Lake noted various studies conducted on the jail since 2006 that have recommended a new facility.

"The facility we have currently is not working," Lake said. "I'm recommending we need a new facility. What size is that going to be? What's going to be in it? Those are questions that still need to be answered, but do we need a new facility? Yes, I believe we do."

Commissioner Tom Proulx cast the only vote against moving forward with the jail project. "I don't want to make a decision unless I know how much you're proposing this is going to cost," Proulx said to those presenting the jail study.

County employees and hired experts hadn't yet nailed down a price estimate, Jail Administrator Paul Coughlin said, because they wanted to get the board's backing before diving into a deep financial analysis. They do, however, know how much it would cost to update the facility to a condition that can be used.

That cost ranges from $2.5 million to $3.5 million, County Coordinator Dennis Genereau said, and would include projects that needed attention a few years ago, such as updates to heating, ventilation and air conditioning, roofing, fire suppression, plumbing and expanding the kitchenette.

However, those facility updates wouldn't mitigate other concerns the DOC and jail staff have about the existing facility. And with those updates, the jail still wouldn't meet all of the DOC's requirements, such as 1,000 square feet of recreation space and certain program spaces the jail doesn't have.

Bruce Schwartzman, an architect with Minneapolis-based design firm BKV Group, has been working with the jail staff and other national experts for the past six months on implementing the recommendations from the 2017 comprehensive jail study.

To avoid the DOC downgrading the jail to a 90-day lock-up and then potentially issuing a "sunset" date - a day the jail would be forced to close if changes aren't made to meet the requirements - Schwartzman recommends the county build a facility for housing inmates north of the existing courts facilities. The new building would connect to the current facility, which Schwartzman thinks could be renovated to better hold necessary program spaces.

"The buildings that serve as some of the garages potentially would have to move out," Schwartzman said. "Some parking might have to be expanded a bit to the north, but we know it could fit on the site."

At the committee of the whole meeting scheduled for May 7, Schwartzmen said they will have more information to provide the board on potential costs of the project, how the county could finance the project, possible sizes of a new facility, number of beds and what staffing should look like in a new facility.

According to a 2018 inspection report from the DOC, Lake said the jail is not in full compliance for jail staffing.

"The facility meets the intent of the rule as far as inmate supervision," Lake said. "However, during peak times when a booking occurs or when a professional visitor has to be escorted or when an incident occurs, there are not enough staff to operate the facility without a reduction in safety and security."

The linear positioning of cells in the jail's design also has implications on safety and the efficiency to which jail staff can do their work. With a podular design of cells, where cells are clustered together, Schwartzman said the DOC allows jails to have a 1-40 officer-to-inmate ratio instead of a 1-20 ratio because of the reduced amount of time it takes to monitor all the cells.

'Cramped for space'

Sheriff Kelly Lake highlighted some of the limitations and safety concerns regarding the layout of the Carlton County Jail:

• The control room is a small room that has to fit front desk reception services, staff who answer phones and monitor cameras, as well as doors, desk space, filing cabinets and a copy machine.

• The small interview room is also used as a program room and library space. Attorneys and probation agents often have to meet with inmates in the visitation room when the interview room is being used.

• The medical exam room holds is used for doctor visits, nursing visits and telemental health consultations, which inmates can't attend alone because the same room also houses all the medical tools and supplies.

• The kitchen was built in 1979 to cook for a 24-bed jail. The jail now holds 48 beds.

• With the increase in female inmates, the jail needs more space to properly segregate the genders.

• There is only one single-bed holding cell for people being booked into jail, which poses problems when there is a need to separative combative inmates.

• There is only one single-bed isolation cell for inmates with severe medical needs or inmates who are prone to violent outbreaks.

• Excess inmates are transported to other jails, which is costly.