Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

Consultants evaluate Carlton County Jail

 


Lois E. Johnson

Two representatives of the National Institute of Corrections spoke to county employees and others interested in the future of the Carlton County jail and justice system to give an assessment report on Thursday, June 4, in Carlton.

April Pottorff and Karen Albert explained they are consultants hired by the institute and had come to Carlton to look at and assess the jail facility and space for programs offered for the inmates.

Sheriff Kelly Lake introduced the consultants, and added the current jail was built in 1979, was added to in 1982, and is the 12th oldest jail. Although it is still serving in its role, inmates are sent elsewhere for housing when the jail capacity is met. And space is not adequate for the jail facilities, such as the kitchen.

“We are not planning on building a new jail at the present time,” said Sheriff Lake. “We are just taking a look at what we have and what we need. A new jail, if it is even decided to build one, is a long ways down the road.”

“Planning a new institution is an once-in-a-lifetime complex project,” said Pottorff. “You want to be able to see the success of it in the future.

“The planning and construction needs to be managed so that the project team knows what to expect. And then, once the construction is completed, you will need to know how to open the new institution. You need to understand staff assignments in order to get it up and running.”

County employees who attended the evaluation session consisted of two county commissioners, a representative of the county attorney’s office, the court administrator’s office, the county coordinator, the director of victims’ services, the jail manager and jail nurse.

“The jail is a component of the justice system,” Pottorff explained. “There is no control about who is in it or why they are in it. There is a broad range of stakeholders, everyone has a different perspective. It will be a collective group decision.”

The two consultants had been in Carlton for several days, Pottorff explained. They toured the jail on Tuesday, June 2.

“We are here to make observations, and we asked for feedback and suggestions,” said Pottorff. “Next we will do action planning and identify steps that will help you move forward.

“Forty percent of the people that pass through the jail are not from the county. Public awareness and educating the public about the jail is key to garnering support for the jail. Knowledge is power. All know someone who has passed through the justice system.

Are they interested in just confinement or do they have a vested interest in serving the needs of the community? The issues of chemical dependency, substance abuse, mental health, lack of education and job skills have to be addressed. The stakeholders need to make a decision about what is the role of the jail.

“Operationally, there are things that the sheriff does to meet the limitations of the jail,” said Albert. “But that makes the facility more difficult to manage. The sheriff and team members do a great job working within the perimeters but they are just confining the inmates. There is no program space. That’s not what people like to see, they want to know what the system could be.”

Albert also noted there is a lack of facilities for alternative housing in the area, such as mental health facilities.

“It is easier for a police officer to drop an offender off at the jail and go back on patrol,” she said. “Is the community committed to finding a solution? It comes down to confinement versus treatment. A whole segment of the population falls out of the system, and that puts a burden on the attorneys and the courts.”

Albert suggested parenting classes as one way to break the cycle.

Programs, such as coordinating education with a community college or school, was also suggested.

“There are a lot of possibilities,” she said. “Look outside of the box. See what the opportunities are. What are the opportunities for strengthening your communities?”

Pottorff stated that the mission, vision, operations and design of the jail has to be considered in planning for a new or adding to the existing jail. Defining wants versus needs also needs to be considered.

Sheriff Lake explained that planning will be a lengthy process.

“This is going to take time,” she said. “The facility will not last forever. At some point we will have to do something.”

 

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