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BELTRAMI COUNTY: Changing and rearranging: Construction planned for Beltrami County Jail

By Crystal Dey/ Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI -- Beltrami County's connected brick campus is continuously crowded in one of it's most frequented buildings -- the jail.

The Beltrami County Jail was built to house 68 inmates in 1989. The daily inmate population then was 40 people. Twenty-five years later, the jail is averaging 116 inmates living in the facility daily. An expansion was inevitable.

Beltrami County Commissioners have approved a $4.1 million remodel, which includes streamlining the booking process, expanding the compact kitchen and creating more sorting areas to keep high-risk inmates out of general population.

"This isn't the Taj Mahal," said Beltrami County Sheriff Phil Hodapp. "It will remain an austere jail. To understand why we're doing this work, you have to look at it historically. This jail's design process began 30 years ago with a different plan."

Beltrami County Jail Administrator Cindy Borowski explained the jail was built in phases. The number of beds was increased from 68 to 81 through the use of double bunking in the early years. In 2002, the county spent $200,000 to increase the inmate capacity to 166. However, the facility needed more than places for prisoners to sleep, it needed to function efficiently.

Borowski said the project has three main goals: increase kitchen space, restructure the booking area and add cells.

"Where the booking area is now isn't efficient," said Laura Pogreba, assistant jail administrator.

Arrestees now are taken into the jail on the main level through the garage access. From there, they must be transported to the second level via elevator to complete the booking process.

To make room for a complete booking area on the main level, the kitchen will be moved to vacated court administration space in the adjacent old courthouse annex. The kitchen is currently overflowing into the hallways and adjoining rooms. A freezer is kept in the basement and additional food service storage has spilled into the previous laundry room. During a tour of the jail, Borowski showed how carts clutter the halls and create obstacles, which are of concern to the fire marshal.

"It's been quite a few years since we've outgrown our space. We kept adding beds, but the kitchen space didn't expand," Borowski said.

Phasing in changes

The remodel project has been broken down into two phases. Phase I includes remodeling vacated court space to accommodate jail administration and expand the outdated kitchen. Borowski said all existing space will be used and applicable interiors such as doors will be repurposed when possible.

Moving the jail administration offices to the court annex will add 15 additional beds, which will allow better classification and separation of inmates who should not be placed into general population, Borowski explained.

During Phase II, the vacated kitchen space will become the new booking space and dorm space will become secure holding facilities. The former booking area, which is approximately 10 feet by 16 feet, will become a Department of Corrections medical unit. Presently, all visiting and regular medical personnel share minimal space.

"Over the years, the number of high-need inmates has changed," Borowski said. "There are more medically unstable inmates and more violence now."

Hodapp said the combination of the county population increasing 45 percent since the 1980s and the state shutdown of mental hospitals at about that time increased the number of people admitted to jail.

"A lot of people are in the middle of a mental health crisis," Hodapp said. "County jails have become a place of last resort."

Borowoski agreed there are a lack of services to deal with chemical dependency and mental health issues, adding there are different factors to consider now than when the jail was built in its small footprint downtown.

"Twenty-five years ago, we didn't have meth or as much domestic violence," Borowski said. "This has become in essence a mini-clinic or hospital."

Progressive plans

The county has been working with DLR Group and Engineering Design Initiative, both of Minneapolis, throughout the planning process for the jail renovation. Proposed plans drafted by DLR Group and EDI include a potential redesign to the lobby to increase video visiting booths, which will be more private than existing kiosks.

Video visitation was introduced to the Beltrami County Jail in January 2013. The service is convenient for visitors who can log-in to a website from home and prevents unnecessary moving of inmates. One video kiosk is located on each floor.

By transitioning to electronic face-to-face visits, the county has increased visitation time since it can be done seven days a week. It's also a cost savings for the county because it uses less staff time, Borowski said.

Hodapp said visits help manage inmates by providing needed communication with family. If an inmate is not compliant with jail procedures, the privilege is revoked. Visits are monitored by jail staff and an outside vendor who both have the capability to terminate a visit if inappropriate behavior is observed.

Borowski said the jail control room will also be receiving updates. It was built to house equipment that, in some cases, was twice the size of modern devices.

"Control panels have transitioned from toggle switches to touch screens," Borowski said.

Interactive television (ITV) court arraignments have also been discussed as part of increasing efficiency.

Borowski said the jail remodel project is progressing on schedule. The county board approved plans in April. In May, design schematics and development were in the works followed by construction documents, according to a DLR Group-proposed schedule. Construction documents are expected to be finished by the end of August. A bidding process is expected to begin in October with construction on the kitchen and administration areas to start as early as December.

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