What is contributing to the overcrowding of local jails?

Published: Feb. 14, 2023 at 1:28 PM CST
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BEMIDJI, Minn. (Valley News Live) - Local jails are continuing to become overcrowded, which is creating more challenges for facilities already battling staffing shortages.

Recently, the Beltrami and Ramsey County Jails were ordered by the Minnesota Department of Corrections to downsize their inmate population due to a lack of adequate staffing. The DOC said the shortage of staff presented an “imminent risk” to inmates and staff.

Last month, The Beltrami County Jail was given 5 days to decrease its inmate capacity from about 120 to 70. Approximately 60 Beltrami inmates are currently being housed at a jail in another county, including Pennington and Morrison Counties.

Beltrami County Sheriff Jason Riggs says the county still has to pay for housing those inmates in other counties.

“It’s a struggle for us because we’re paying anywhere between $55-65 a day to house an inmate out of county,” he said.

Sheriff Riggs says there are also other operational changes associated with the requests to downsize.

“In addition to those daily costs of being housed out of county, we’ve had to essentially upgrade our transportation system because now they are running hundreds and thousands of miles a week to transport inmates in and out of our jail to these other agencies,” he said.

Mental health continues to be a big problem across the country and Beltrami County is no different. Sheriff Riggs says the jail takes in many people suffering from a mental health crisis. He says most of those inmates are spending up to 80 days in jail when they are supposed to be out within 48 hours.

“When someone is having mental anguish, being in jail is not helping them,” said Riggs. “These people aren’t getting the amount of services and help they should be getting.”

While the DOC is doing its job to ensure the safety of inmates and staff, Riggs believes the state should do more to help fund local jails. He said Minnesota’s surplus could be put to use to offset high costs at the local jails.

Riggs says his office is working to recruit more staff, but the interest in law enforcement has declined. He added that releasing inmates isn’t off the table, but it would depend on the severity of the crimes committed by the inmate. He says there would be really strong consideration before anyone is released.

The Ramsey County Jail was also ordered to cut its capacity. The inmate population was reduced from 500 to 360.

In a statement, Sheriff Bob Fletcher says he attempted to raise his concerns about overcrowding with the county board dating back to last May.

“Overcrowding isn’t a new problem. It’s part of a nationwide trend and entirely predictable, caused by significant increases in crime, massive backlogs in the criminal justice system, and a nationwide worker shortage,” he said. “We’ve been working hard to address the issue by aggressively recruiting and hiring corrections officers while at the same time trying to work with our County Commissioners on solutions.”

Fletcher says they are considering making better use of the Ramsey County Workhouse and using about 25% of its capacity. He adds no inmates will be released.