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'Busting at the seams:' Sheriff says Hubbard County jail needs more staffing

HubbardCountyLawEnforcementCenter2022.jpg
Hubbard County Law Enforcement Center
Enterprise file photo

The Hubbard County jail has been hitting record-high statistics.

Due to the rising number of inmates and the steep cost to house them in other jails, there is a need to increase jail staffing, explained County Human Resources Director Gina Teems.

She and Hubbard County Sheriff Cory Aukes asked county commissioners to authorize the hiring of four more correctional officers. They spoke at Tuesday’s county board meeting.

In August 2021, the average daily inmate population was 50.62, but as of February 2022, it is 73.17, according to Teems. The jail is currently staffed to house 60.

“On Monday, Feb. 7, there was a record number of inmates, totalling 87,” she said.

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Aukes said the jail hit the record again recently. When the population reaches 90, they have to notify the Department of Corrections (DOC), he added.

A busy jail

Teems reported that housing 10 inmates in other jails would cost $219,000 per year, but would likely be higher due to unknown transport expenses.

Currently, there are 20 dispatchers/jailers. The cost for four additional full-time officers would be $276,710/year, which includes benefits, according to Teems.

Aukes is currently using deputy sheriffs, and even the Sentence to Serve crew leader, to fill in at the jail.

“That can only go on so long,” he said. “We’re backed into a corner here at no fault of our own. The jail is getting full. It’s getting busier, and there is a safety issue for the staff.”

Board chair Ted Van Kempen asked if there was adequate space for 87 inmates.

“Barely,” Aukes replied. “We’re busting at the seams.”

Aukes explained there are 116 beds, but the jail’s operational capacity is 92.

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Assistant jail administrator Brent Lindenfelser pointed out that some inmates require special management and can’t be double-bunked, so there is a need for extra beds.

Neighboring county jails are experiencing similar problems, Lindenfelser added. “They are either full or short-staffed, so they won’t take our inmates.” Only the larger metro jails have extra housing available, he said.

More felony-level arrests

Aukes said numbers of incarcerations have steadily risen since last fall.

County commissioner Dan Stacey asked what is driving that trend.

Aukes replied that it’s related to drug and DUI charges.

“There’s been a lot of people arrested that have a pretty extensive criminal history,” he said, “so instead of being released on their own or having a low bail, they’re being held.”

Judges look at prior history when setting bail, Aukes said. “A lot of these people are on probation, so they’re getting that revoked and being held. It’s accountability.”

Additional traffic enforcement protects the public by getting drivers high on meth off the road, Aukes said. “It’s good they’re getting arrested, there’s no doubt, but I don’t see this changing. I don’t see our numbers going down.”

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If numbers were to decrease, county commissioner Tom Krueger asked if staff could be laid off.

Teems said the county would follow whatever procedure language is in labor contracts or personnel policy for layoffs.

Drug specialty court?County commissioner Char Christenson said she read an article that one out of eight males between the ages of 26 and 54 “are contentedly unemployed, and they spend their days on social media and playing video games, so I’m suspecting part of our problem is one out of eight of those people being unemployed.”

Stacey said chemical dependency is the issue.

De La Hunt asked if a drug specialty court would have a significant impact.

“It might,” Aukes said. “I don’t see why not. Drug court, I think, focuses more on your first-time offenders, maybe second-time offenders. People with felony-level DUIs probably are not going to be subject to it.”

The majority of inmates in the jail, at present, have felony charges or have violated probation, Aukes said.

“Maybe it would’ve prevented some of those people from getting to felony level?” said De La Hunt. “If this is a trend that’s going to continue, we have to do something different, and that’s one thing this county hasn’t done that other counties have had success with.”

De La Hunt noted that Marc Bloomquist, DOC district supervisor for Hubbard County, has proposed the idea of a drug specialty court numerous times, and even had funding for it. “And we just can’t get it done,” De La Hunt said.

Aukes said it needed “buy in” from the district court, and that wasn’t there in the past.

Budgeting

Aukes recommended that Enbridge’s reimbursement to the sheriff’s office – totalling roughly $800,000 – could fund the new positions for a couple of years.

“I don’t want to have to start taking our inmates to other counties,” Aukes continued. “That is going to be very expensive. It’s going to be more economical to hire our own staff.”

County commissioner David De La Hunt said these positions will need to be budgeted for in 2023 because Enbridge monies have already been spoken for labor and other costs related to the pipeline.

County Administrator Jeff Cadwell agreed that will be part of the budgeting process.

When asked by Stacey how much Hubbard County charges to house another county’s inmate, Aukes said that the DOC set a standard rate of $60 per day.

Stacey estimated the actual cost was double that amount.

When factoring in staffing and building costs, Aukes agreed, noting the cost is about $140 per day.

The board unanimously approved the four new officers.

Shannon Geisen is editor of the Park Rapids Enterprise.
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