The Minnesota Department of Corrections has set a sunset date of July 31, 2023 for the Carlton County Jail.
After that date, the county cannot house inmates in the building as it currently stands, according to a letter sent to the Carlton County Board of Commissioners on Jan. 28. The board discussed the letter at its meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 11.
“These deficiencies include significant problems with antiquated plumbing, lack of natural light, heating, security electronics, cooling and overall poor construction," DOC officials said in the letter.
They went on to say that the average lifespan of a facility that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week is usually 25-30 years and praised the county for maintaining it as well as they have. The Carlton County facility has been in use for about 40 years and was not built to hold the amount of inmates the county currently sees.
In an email to the Pine Journal on Tuesday, Feb. 18, jail administrator Paul Coughlin said a new facility would make the jail functional.
“As for the benefits of a new facility, it is not at all about comfortability,” Coughlin said. “Managing inmates, and having the proper space for programming to deal with the onslaught of substance abuse and mental health (issues) we see in inmates will be the biggest improvement."
There is also not enough room to house the increase in female inmates since the 1980s. At the board meeting on Monday, Jan. 27, the commissioners voted to develop an offender program for women and seek up to $40 million from local option sales taxes to pay for a new jail.
The county asked the state Legislature for $3 million to cover the preliminary engineering, planning and design of a program for women. County officials hope to create an evidence-based program that would improve services for female inmates.
The current jail building can be used by the county to house other offices once it can no longer houses inmates, said Dennis Genereau, Carlton County coordinator.
The board of commissioners has had several discussions about if and where a new facility could be built over the years.
“If we are going to build it, we need to build it right,” District 3 commissioner Tom Proulx said Tuesday, Feb. 18. “We need to take programming and costs into account and not duplicate programming already being offered by outside sources. This will be a huge and difficult burden on the county taxpayers.”
Genereau said none of the plans include building a new jail facility on the site of the current Carlton High School building. If the county were to take ownership of the school property, Genereau said that part of the site would probably be a parking lot, while the newer part of the school building would be used as government offices.
The county hired BKV in 2018 to come up with concept designs on property the county already owns and to offer recommendations based on the 2017 Carlton County Jail and Criminal Justice System Planning Study. The report was completed in November 2019.
The study said the layout of the current facility causes security problems in that jail staff cannot continuously watch the cells. The cells are built on the sides of a long corridor, so the only way to see into the cells is to stand directly in front of them.
While county officials cannot do anything to address the jail layout, they have been making other changes based on the study's findings, such as hiring an assistant jail administrator in 2019.
Residents are encouraged to contact the board of commissioners and county leadership with questions, comments or feedback.
“We will listen to all reasonable ideas and solutions on the issues,” Genereau said.