Mille Lacs County Jail Administrator Bradley Hunt spoke to the county board during a work session on Oct. 15 stating the jail had recently gone through an inspection by the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC).
“The inspection went well,” said Hunt. “But the biggest hiccup and why we’re here is because of staffing.”
A report given to the board stated: “The DOC report was overall less than satisfactory stemming from staffing shortages.” The concerns were the shortage of jail-exclusive rover positions, who are responsible for providing security services at assigned locations, and the jail falling just short of supervisory needs with having four sergeants instead of the required five. Specifically, the report noted inmates left unattended in the kitchen during evening hours who were cleaning and preparing for the morning meal, a lack of a designated nurse/med tech escort and shortage of security when the Medium/Maximum Security Area reaches 25 or more inmates (typically the area houses 22 inmates).
In the report, Hunt said that if the jail does not meet the standard of staffing, the DOC will look at decreasing their bed capacity which is currently at 147, costing the county revenue from boarding inmates from other counties. Revenue from boarding one inmate is approximately $55 per day, excluding transportation fees for drop off and pick up.
Hunt said, “If we don’t add staff, we would have to shut down a unit, and it’s an all or nothing type thing.” He added that the units still have to be tended to even if shut down.
On average, the jail rents beds to five inmates per day from other counties, and if the jail looked at the option of closing a unit, they would have to pay another jail to board Mille Lacs County inmates.
Mille Lacs County Public Works Director and Assistant Administrator Holly Wilson noted there is a statewide shortage of correctional officers.
Sarah Johnson, the DOC senior detention facilities inspector, was present at the meeting and suggested the county aggressively advertise. “Some counties have gotten where they need to be, but turnover is high so they continue to advertise,” she said.
Hunt added, “Don [Sheriff Don Lorge] and I have had many conversations about how to make a bad situation better. A lot of the kids will work here to work for their law enforcement future.”
Hunt said that they would need five more staff members to get to the goal of 34. As a side note, he added, the county has one of the largest female jail units in the state.
Sheriff Don Lorge said, “I’ve looked at what it would look like to close down a unit and other scenarios if we don’t add those five workers.”
Johnson said, “We require minimum staffing and don’t tell you how to run it, but most jails don’t run at minimum ... If you are more proactive than reactive, you will see more retention with staff.”
Hunt added, “We’re running these people like thoroughbreds, and we can’t turn arrestees away.” Mille Lacs County Administrator Pat Oman added that revenue from boarders is down.
Johnson added, “I’ll give you five years to get fully staffed as long as we see progress.”
A board resolution was passed for the development of a facility action plan at the regular board meeting on Oct. 29.