BEMIDJI -- Challenges at the Beltrami County Jail resulting in heavy staff turnover were highlighted Tuesday, July 20.

During the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners meeting, Jail Administrator Calandra Allen informed commissioners about the facility's ongoing employee retention issue. According to Allen, several staff members leave their positions on a yearly basis, for a variety of reasons.

Over the course of the presentation, the following factors were listed as reasons for the retention problem:

  • The overall workload, which involves working with inmates for 12-hour shifts.
  • The lack of a full staff, resulting in more overtime hours as people are called in on days off, and denying time off.
  • Career advancement, as many enter the correctional workforce seeking positions as peace officers.
  • Correctional officers are concerned about liability, as they're being threatened with lawsuits regularly by inmates.
  • A negative image of law enforcement in the media.
  • A lack of breaks and mealtime during shifts.
  • An increase of assaults against correctional officers.

To address the issues, a retention task force was formed and some short-term solutions have been reached. Allen said the jail has installed workout equipment for inmates to pass time in a more positive manner.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Allen said the task force has also shortened the hiring process from five to six months to five to six weeks, created an all staff award banquet, added a water cooler for better access to drinking water for staff and upgraded technology to make the officers' work easier and safer. Despite the advancements, though, larger problems remain.

The jail is housing inmates who are charged with more serious crimes, Allen said. Additionally, Allen said many of them have more morbidities, meaning more medical reports need to be made and there are more mental health cases, resulting in more special watches being required.

"We need to start competing with the private workforce and we need to compete with other public workforces," said Sheriff Ernie Beitel in his comments. "We need some input, advice and direction, and honestly we need your help . . . If we continue to work like this without making changes, we're setting ourselves up for failure."

"I always look to the remodel or rebuild of the jail as a silver bullet, but I know that's going to be a multi-year process and I don't think that's the solution right now. We can't wait that long." Commissioner Reed Olson said.

Moving forward, the board directed the task force to continue researching solutions and improvements. Once recommendations are compiled, the Sheriff's Office is to report back to the commissioners with proposals.

Staff appreciation

Another action by the commissioners during the meeting was proclaiming Tuesday, July 27, as County Staff Appreciation Day. The idea for the proclamation was recommended by Gov. Tim Walz and the Association of Minnesota Counties.

In the proclamation, the board states, "county staff went beyond expectations, taking on personal risks, to continue delivering essential services to the citizens of our county during the COVID-19 pandemic."

The proclamation goes on to state, "in addition to their regular duties, many county staff were called upon and accepted new and challenging responsibilities during the pandemic such as expediting the distribution of thousands of dollars in economic recovery appropriations, empowering the survival of our local business community, successfully managing a deluge of mail-in-ballots in an unprecedented federal election and retooling local public health education outreach to flatten the curve."