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Rising inmate population seen in Cass County

BACKUS — Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Erick Hoglund and Lt. Joel Norenberg informed Cass County commissioners Tuesday about rising jail inmate populations and challenges to find housing for prisoners.

Cass boards its prisoners in its own jail at Walker, under a contract in Crow Wing County at Brainerd and now additionally at Hubbard County.

Inmate totals are above the maximum in Cass’s contract with Crow Wing County, at the maxiumim at its own jail in Walker and is boarding prisoners elsewhere, plus having a hard time finding space for the uptick in the number of female inmates, Norenberg reported.

Cass’s Walker jail is licensed for up to 60 beds, but under Minnesota Department of Corrections guidelines to separate men from women, adults from juveniles and pre-conviction from post convicted individuals, its actual capacity is only 48 inmates.

The county was above that maximum in the early 2000s, often boarding 20 to 30 prisoners in other county’s jails. When Crow Wing County decided about that time to build a new jail, Cass joined them in the project at Brainerd, guaranteeing Cass would provide 60 inmates a day.

Crow Wing opened its jail and Cass began boarding prisoners there in 2007, still housing as many as 32 prisoners a day in Walker.

Following 2007, inmate populations declined. Cass had less than 40 prisoners a day to send to Crow Wing’s new jail, despite having only 13 (mainly sentence to serve) maximum in Walker and maybe eight elsewhere.

Some of those going elsewhere might be juveniles or women who have to be housed in spaces separate from adult men.

In 2008 to 2011, Cass kept open the sentence to serve dormitory section of the Cass Jail, but sent most of the rest of its prisoners to Crow Wing – still coming up with less than 40 prisoners per day under the contract for 60.

So, in 2010, Cass amended its contract with Crow Wing, dropping its guaranteed number of inmates per day from 60 to 40.

By 2013, Cass had up to 50 of its prisoners in Crow Wing’s jail, paying an additional per diem rate for those over the 40-inmate contract. There were up to another 21 per day in Walker and 13 in other jail facilities.

The maximum 80 inmates a day Cass had seen in 2006 dropped to between 60 and 65 maximum in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011, then rebounded after that. Until Tuesday Norenberg reported the county had 100 inmates last weekend.

There are a lot of probation violations and drug arrests, he told the commissioners, explaining some of the rise.

The county pays Crow Wing under its 2014 contract $48.65 per day per bed. Additional prisoners at Crow Wing cost Cass $44 per day. Costs at Hubbard run $42 to $46 per day. This does not include medical services for inmates.

Cass Administrator Robert Yochum reported the average daily total cost per prisoner is $90.17. He said jail costs for Cass run 12 percent of the local property tax levy annually.

Crow Wing has one closed pod in its jail. Cass’s Walker facility is not currently staffed to handle the maximum 48 prisoners allowed.

If either county hired staff to cover full capacity, it would take hiring four people to add one full-time person, because to cover 24 hour shifts, plus vacation time, holidays and sick leave it takes at least four people to cover all three eight-hour work shifts.

“There is a point where it makes more sense to build a new facility,”

Administrator Robert Yochum said, adding, Chief Financial Officer Larry Wolfe is currently evaluating financial data, preliminary to informing the board about what those numbers would be.