Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, December 14, 1998

New state rules, changes to affect county jail's needs

By Russell Victorian

Alternative sentencing, such as sentence to service and electronic home monitoring, have brought inmate numbers down slightly in recent years at the McLeod County jail, but that does not necessarily mean there is a trend occurring.

The inmate numbers for 1998 are once again on the increase. And there also are a number of issues which may tax jail staff and space over the next year, including a new set of state jail facility rules effective Jan. 1, the closing of the Hutchinson dispatch center and the new judgeship within the county.

State rule change

Lieutenant Bonnie Case, McLeod County jail administrator, said jail staff currently do a visual check every hour of inmate cells.

Case said the visual checks are well-being checks, which ensure the inmates are not harming themselves or destroying county property, she said.

The staff are allowed to do hourly checks on the general population because the visual checks are supplemented by an audio monitoring system, which rotates from cell block to cell block to constantly monitor all the cells, Case said.

But the new Chapter 2911 rules governing adult detention facilities no longer allows audio monitoring as an option, which means the staff will have to visually check each general population cell every half hour, she said.

Although those visual checks are an important task, increased checks will create problems because the correctional officers have several other tasks.

The jail staff, which consists of two, except for on Mondays and Fridays due to heavy court traffic, also visually check the holding cells and segregation cells every half hour, and suicidal-classified cells every 15 minutes, Case said. "These are areas where there is more likely to be problems, and they need closer observation."

The holding cells consist of new people coming into the jail who are waiting to be processed in, she said. Sometimes these people are intoxicated and have to be held there before they are moved in with the general population, she said.

The segregation cells usually consists of inmates with medical problems or with disciplinary restrictions, Case said.

"Jailing is more complex today," she said. The staff also serves meals, perform in-processing, which could last from three-quarters to 112 hours, and handle work and sentence to serve releases.

They also handle court escorts, court ordered transports, electronic monitoring, recreation time, sick call, cell searches and inmate visits by family, attorneys, clergy and social workers, Case said.

"Sometimes it is taxing for the jail staff to get the checks all done on time, and now the checks will be every half hour," Case said. "There are times when it is busier, and we will need help in the jail."

She requested two full-time correction officer positions for 1999, but she has not been advised if the county board has approved them yet.

Dispatch consolidation

The elimination of the Hutchinson communication center also means they will no longer be using their three lock-up (holding) cells.

The cells are only used about 6 percent of the time, according to Hutchinson Police Chief Steve Madson.

But that is between 100 to 200 lock-ups throughout a year, said a Hutchinson police officer.

The Hutchinson lock-ups were generally holdovers until the people were transported here or to another county, Case said. They could not hold adults for more than 16 hours or juveniles for more than six hours.

Without that holding facility, those people will come here or go other places, and without a doubt, it will tax the county jail, she said.

New judgeship

The new judgeship also could change things. If the county is handling more criminal matters, more people may be put into custody in this facility, Case said.

County jail space needs

Lieutenant Bonnie Case, McLeod County jail administrator, said more minimum- and medium-security space will eventually be needed at the county jail.

The maximum security is adequate, Case said.

The jail capacity is 35 beds, but one would never want all 35 beds to be filled, although that has happened in the past, she said.

If there are situations where inmates cannot get along, especially during longer holding periods, or other situations, the jail staff needs the flexibility to separate the inmates, Case said.

If the inmates cannot be separated, it increases the county's liability and more fights and vandalism occurs, she said.

To run an efficient facility, Case said she needs about an 80 percent ceiling (bed occupancy).

She said she has not had to board out a lot of inmates recently, but has in the past.

There are a lot of others looking for bed space. Case said she gets calls every week for bed space, "and I take them if we have the space."


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