Jail assessment presented to Beltrami County Board
BEMIDJI--The Beltrami County Board of Commissioners received an in-depth report on the assessment of the Beltrami County Jail performed in October by the National Institute of Corrections.
BEMIDJI-The Beltrami County Board of Commissioners received an in-depth report on the assessment of the Beltrami County Jail performed in October by the National Institute of Corrections.
The 75-page report, presented to the commissioners by Jail Administrator Melissa Bohlmann and Assistant Jail Administrator Calandra Allen, addressed the jail's strengths and weaknesses; namely issues surrounding recruitment and retention of jail staff and lack of space for increasing numbers of inmates.
According to the report, which was made available to the Pioneer in early December, Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp requested the assessment because the jail "is not meeting the needs of the Sheriff's Department."
During the three-day assessment, consultants Joe Fenton and Mark Goldman toured the jail and interviewed 13 stakeholders including Hodapp, Bohlmann, commissioners Reed Olson, Jim Lucachick and Richard Anderson, public defender Jennifer Nelson, District Judge Annie Claesson-Huseby and others.
In both the report and a public meeting held in October, Fenton and Goldman addressed a number of the jail's weaknesses, including:
• An outdated building
• A too-small, potentially dangerous booking area
• A lack of fresh air, outdoor recreation space and views of nature for inmates
• Staff shortages, recruitment issues and burnout
• Limited space for inmates to meet with attorneys
• A layout that prevents all of the jail's beds from being used
• A "far from ideal" environment for mentally ill and suicidal inmates
However, the assessors deemed the jail was doing the best it could with the existing limitations, and included the fact that a July 2017 inspection of the facility found it was in compliance with 99 percent of Minnesota jail standards.
"Considering that the design and some building systems are outdated, that inmates are on four levels, that sightlines are poor, and that the number of line staff on duty at the same time is as few as five, the Beltrami County Jail appears to be operating effectively," the report says.
The report also addressed the factors that lead to issues like overcrowding. The jail's capacity is 140 inmates, but the county is responsible for incarcerating more than 140 people at times. This means some inmates must be housed in facilities outside Beltrami County, costing the county at least $285,000 in 2017. At one point in April, for example, 151 inmates were in custody, meaning at least 11 had to be housed elsewhere.
The jail's average daily population has grown since 2009, when it was 105. In 2015 the average daily population was 111, and in 2017 it was 122. The county's increasing population may have contributed to the growth, and certain demographics-including unemployment and poverty rates higher than the state average-may also cause an increase in crime.
Recruitment efforts show improvement
Bohlmann said that ramped-up recruitment and retention efforts have helped ease some of the staffing issued addressed in the report. Until last spring, applicants for a position at the jail had to have at least a two-year college degree. Now, however, applicants do not need to be college graduates, and only need two years of work experience to be eligible for a position.
"Last year we kind of started saying, what do we need to do differently that we haven't already been trying, and how far out of the box do we need to look to find correctional staff that actually want to learn this job?" Bohlmann said. "We started realizing maybe we were missing...the stay-at-home mom, the people that had other careers but want a new career...that kind of stuff."
The county has publicized its efforts to recruit jail staff through radio campaigns, internet ads and a booth at the Beltrami County Fair. As of Nov. 9, Bohlmann said the jail has hired 17 employees, and Allen said at Tuesday's meeting that the efforts have paid off.
"We have been able to schedule six-man teams which has been amazing, staff morale, staff demeanor, everything, just that extra person is huge. That helps with less stress on welfare checks because we do have to account for everybody every 30 minutes, 365 days a year," Allen said. "We're at the best spot we've been in a long time. Right now, on paper, it looks tremendous."
Hodapp, Allen, Bohlmann, County Administrator Kay Mack and the Beltrami County Board plan to continue working together to address the other issues covered in the assessment report, though no concrete plan was put in place during Tuesday night's meeting.