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

By Dan Reed
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

Carlton County jail eighth oldest in state


Paul Coughlin

The Carlton County jail is the eighth oldest Class III jail facility of the 84 jails in Minnesota.

"Carlton County has the eighth oldest Class III (medium security) jail facility of the 84 jails in Minnesota, and is the oldest holding more than 35 inmates," Carlton County Sheriff's Office spokesman Paul Coughlin reported at a Carlton County Committee of the Whole meeting on September 6. "The Jail Needs Assessment has reinforced that the jail is outdated, does not fulfill all state guidelines for a facility of our type and does not provide the program and support that would help detainees stay out of the judicial system once they served their time."

He explained the jail was designed for 24 inmates in the 1970s and was expanded with an addition, which has handled up to 40. The original floor plan and the addition were not designed and built in a circular layout. Rounds need to be made each half hour in this medium security facility and it is difficult to do with the existing facility.

"This floor plan and room layout was deemed obsolete and not program friendly in the mid-1960s," Coughlin continued, "but was built anyway. There is not enough space for programming needs in our type of facility for anger management, domestic violence groups, and classes on improving cognitive skills as examples of Department of Corrections requirements. We know these programs work to keep repeat offenders out of the system, but can't do the job in the limited space."

The Minnesota Department of Corrections in its 2015 inspection report, required Carlton County to have a long range plan developed to improve the safety of the jail and its population. The Carlton County Board of Commissioners have set four goals for long-term strategic planning for county government and one of them centers on safety - safety for our roads, child protection and a safe, updated jail facility.

"Upgrading our county buildings, such as the jail, is very costly," observed commissioner Gary Peterson. "I had hoped revenues generated from new oil pipelines in a new corridor through Carlton County would bring in the money to modernize our buildings without the need for increasing the tax burden on people who own property. Unfortunately, that is up in the air at this time. But that does not mean new building and remodeling will not be necessary anyway."

In 2016 the length of stay for inmates has risen to 9.07 days on average. In 2015, incarcerations were as follows: 782 felonies, 238 gross misdemeanors and 582 misdemeanors. Female incarcerations have risen to 27 percent of those admitted, with a major increase in drug issues overall in the jail population. Thirteen percent are Native American and 60 to 70 percent are Carlton County residents. The No. 1 reason for incarceration is no longer contributed to alcohol consumption, but crimes that were committed with issues related to mental illness and withdrawal from chemicals.

"When the state hospital and regional treatment programs were dismantled in the 1980s," remarked Dave Lee, director of Carlton County Health and Human Services, "there were promises of new types of programs to fund treatment for those clients in alternate community-based programs, but that did not materialize. We are not close to covering the need. The high jail populations with mental illness and chemical dependency issues reflect that lack of a strong treatment program in our area for all the needs."

Carlton, St. Louis, Lake and Itasca counties are experiencing constant crowding, with Carlton County inmates boarded out to Benton, Aitkin and Pine counties. Deputies spend two hours one way to bring an inmate to and from court appearances while inmates are boarded in the Benton County jail, for example.

Commissioner Dick Brenner, county representative on the Northeast Regional Corrections Commission, reported, "I know there are plans to have a halfway house in conjunction with the correctional facility in St. Louis County. This may help."

Coughlin replied, "It would make a more successful program here if those types of efforts were made locally. The success rate for our inmates to stay out of jail would increase with this effort."


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