In my time as a member of the Northwest Regional Corrections Board of Directors I’ve watched, heard and been involved with quite a few things on the business side of corrections. The thought of sharing some of this experience surfaced during a recent meeting of the board. The day also included a tour of the jail.

    But first some background.

    For the counties of Polk, Norman and Red Lake, “corrections” involves operation of the Northwest Regional Corrections Center (that’s the jail) and the Red River Valley Juvenile Center. Both are located in Crookston and are operated by Tri-County Community Corrections (TCCC).

    The regional corrections board is made up of two county commissioners from each of the three member counties. This body governs Tri-County Corrections.

    While the operational management structure might be a bit confusing, you can be assured that it is all a very well run system by some exceptional staff.

    In the jail, the role of corrections amounts to either safely housing suspects prior to trial or holding those who are serving out a jail sentence lasting one year or less. The jail is licensed and staffed to hold up to 200 prisoners.

    The Juvenile Center, located in the Polk County Law Enforcement Center building, has two areas for housing kids 18 and under.  The “secure” area is for those who have violated the law and might be a threat to others or to themselves. The “non-secure” area is for juveniles who have less serious issues or who are from homes where parenting is in disarray. The Juvenile Center can hold kids for up to 90 days.

Jail occupancy

    At last week’s meeting of the Corrections Board, we heard that daily jail occupancy for February averaged 174.61 inmates. That’s down from most months but about normal for February’s usually “slow time.” The number included 144.11 males and 30.5 females.

The bed-count on meeting day was 170. Of that total, 45 were “per diem paying guests” who were being housed for other jurisdictions. Per-diem income for February totaled $81,544, which is down from the about $100,000 collected in most months but pretty much normal for the “short month” and slower time of year.

Per-diems pay the debt

    Incidentally, per-diem income now more than covers the debt service on the $17 million in bonds that were sold 12 years ago to finance construction of the jail.  And the $430,000 that was paid to other counties to keep the prisoners that we didn’t have room to house during the last year of operating in the old jail… well, that expense no longer exists.

Consider, too, that the new jail (I keep calling it the “new one” even though it has already been in use for 10 years) will be around for many years after the bonds are paid off in 2026.

    The high number of inmates in February was 188 on Feb. 5. The low number was 164 on Feb. 8. The average daily bed count for 2017 was 181.3. That number is right about where it should be when allowances are made for inmates who must remain separated, are a threat to others or who have physical or mental health issues. There has to be flexibility.

    The jail had bed counts over 200 several times during the 2017 but those high numbers were for a very short periods of time as prisoners came and left throughout the day.

            
More than passes inspection

    We heard that the state jail inspector was very complimentary about jail operation after making a scheduled tour of the facility. With nothing in the way of a “must do” correction, the suggestion was made that a fulltime recreation person might be employed to keep corrections officers from having to fill that role. The suggestion didn’t get a lot of traction with the board.

    The Juvenile Center, with new director Kyle Allen in charge and reporting at the meeting, is doing well, too. For February, the secure side of the facility had an average of 5.29 kids and the non-secure side had 4.93 juveniles. There were 12 kids in the 16-bed center on that particular Monday. Most of them were from non-member “per-diem” paying counties.

    Business included a report from Executive Director Andy Larson saying that the updating of the security system in both the jail and juvenile center had been completed under budget and a year ahead of schedule. That work has provided greatly expanded camera surveillance, improved electronic controls for the locking and unlocking doors, and more.

    The control center now has 32 different camera views in the jail. That’s up four times from the 8 previously used. There are new cameras in the Juvenile Center, too. The cameras show and record a much more focused and otherwise improved view of any activity. People involved in incidents can be positively identified, which was always the case.

    Currently in the final stages is the installation of equipment that will make video visitation possible via computers and/or smart phones rather than by having to come to the jail or juvenile center. This will make it much easier for inmates and their family members to communicate, which is very valuable in the “correction” process.
               
Catch and release

    Corrections and its Probation Division are at the back end of law enforcement in Polk County. This effort begins with good investigative work done by deputies and police officers and goes through the County Attorney’s Office and the courts before it gets to corrections.

    In short, Polk County is not a “catch and release” county but one where if you do the crime, you can plan on doing the time. Still, it is a county where criminals get safe and humane treatment when in confinement and after.

    By the way, the jail meals are good, too.  A few of us board members ate noon lunch there last week. On that day, the menu included barbecues with buns baked in the jail, American fries, whole kernel corn, a mixed fruit sauce, and milk. Good portions with some pretty good nutritional value, too.

    Two members of an outside food service firm prepare the meals with help from a couple or more inmates who are working off time. The cost comes to about $1.70 a meal. Prisoners are fed for about $5.10 to $5.20 a day. You can’t eat at home for that. Bad food is said to be the root cause of almost all jail rioting. Rioting isn’t likely to happen at our jail.

Summation:  It was a really good jail visit but you don’t want to ever have to stay there. For me, my claustrophobia would go out of control. It’s still a jail. The cells are small and are double-bunked, and you are locked up.

    Thoughts expressed in this column are those of the author and are not necessarily a reflection of the opinions of the other members of the Polk County Board of Commissioners.