Why build a new jail?It’s a question that pops up again and again: Why is Douglas County considering building a new criminal justice facility?
By: Erin Klegstad, Staff Reporter, Alexandria Echo Press
It’s a question that pops up again and again: Why is Douglas County considering building a new criminal justice facility?
According to Allen Brinkman, a jail inspector with the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC), it’s because of the deficiencies of the current jail.
Brinkman listed the jail’s deficiencies for the Douglas County Board of Commissioners at its meeting Tuesday.
Although the jail is only 26 years old, it is not up to today’s safety standards.
“It was built before state or national jail standards,” Brinkman said. He pointed out that in 1997, laws changed and most jails saw a five to 10 percent increase in housing/holding costs that hasn’t decreased since.
“Sentencing guidelines affected everyone statewide,” he said. Bails and bonds are getting higher and inmates pose more public risk, while housing females is the fastest growing classification, he said.
The current jail does not have the ability to house and hold different prisoner classifications, he said, including predator/prey types, those with mental health issues and females.
New state laws – a tougher .08 blood alcohol level and a higher accountability for sex offenders, for example – will also put more people in jail.
“Those will only create added stresses and frustrations on you,” Brinkman said.
Airflow in the current jail is “poor at best,” he said, as the jail and courts share circulated air. “You can’t separate anyone coming in with an airborne pathogen.”
For example, following a recent intoxilizer test at the jail, Lieutenant Bill McKay said the air alcohol content was too high to run another test two-and-a-half hours later, a situation that happens often during the summer months.
Heating throughout the facility is also poor.
Brinkman’s biggest concern is operational and staff safety. “This facility does not lend itself to either one,” he said.
He said that the poor facility is only “operating in a fair manner because of the exceptional staff and management.”
Brinkman continued, saying, “Is it fair for them to work in the conditions they do? You need to be concerned about the people in the facility.”
Douglas County Sheriff Bill Ingebrigtsen agreed. “We forget about the staff,” he said. “This is all about them. We need to take care of the people who are taking care of those prisoners.”
He pointed out that although the jail is 26 years old – a newer building than Jefferson High School – it has worn like it is three times older. It’s used 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Brinkman said that if the current jail was brought up to code, the costs would be almost a wash, or even negative, when compared to building a brand new facility.
“To put apartments there would be easier than a jail,” he said.
Although Brinkman said he doesn’t see the current jail “sun setting” – a time limit in which the facility has to come up to compliance or else close – it does have “all the right ingredients to have problems down the road.”
He concluded, “It’s a recipe that has to be addressed.”