Strandell Column: Corrections Board dealing with budget woes

Warren Strandell

Local government bodies are in the process of developing their budgets for 2022 but none of them has as many big issues before it as those that are before the Northwest Regional Corrections Board.

For reference, the Regional Corrections Board — made up of two commissioners each from Polk, Norman and Red Lake counties — is the body that oversees management of the Tri-County Community Corrections agency’s operation of the Northwest Regional Corrections Center jail, the Red River Valley Juvenile Center, and the Probation Department.

It is the Juvenile Center portion of these operations that has thrown a wrench into things. Problems began on May 14 when a pop-up rain event dumped 1.5 inches of rain on Crookston. The rain came while the Juvenile Center was in the process of being re-roofed. As a result, there was nothing to stop water from rushing through the open areas in the roof.

Non-secure and. secure, the 2 sides

Most affected was the “non-secure” or residential side of the center along with the electrical equipment room. Damage was so extensive that the entire center had to be immediately shut down with the juvenile residents transferred to other facilities in the region.

Damage to the “secure side” was much less severe. That side of the center was temporarily re-opened in a limited role on July 26. The Regional Corrections Board took action to close it down this month. A combination of operational and financial reasons were factors in that action.

Operational issues dealt with the fact that when a juvenile is placed in secure detention, it is very important to have the option to move him/her to the residential side when behavior and classification allows. Without residential side beds being available that option no longer existed. As a result, placement agencies (probation, courts, social services) are more likely to place juveniles in situations where both secure and residential housing are available. Operating just a secure side center became impractical without also having residential housing available.

Full cost of staffing

Add in the cost of staffing the center for just one side of operations and the financial considerations involved made closure something that needed to be done.

The Juvenile Center will be rebuilt. That is not a question. How long that will take is a question.

ICON Architectural Group, Grand Forks, has begun designing a new residential side floor plan. The time is right, too, for the heating and cooling systems to be updated.

But with contractors all generally having a lot of work to do and, like many other businesses being short of employees, completion won’t happen for a while, probably not for up to a year.

So, with the center closed down, what happens to the center’s staff? Of the 11 employees, the program director and caseworker have taken temporary position in the Probation Department where the program director had previous experience.

All five fulltime youth counselors have agreed to assume alternative work assignments in the jail (all these positions were otherwise unfilled).

The three part-time youth counselors have been laid off. They will qualify for unemployment insurance.

All of the employees will return to their Juvenile Center positions once reconstruction is completed.

Who pays the bill?

There is also the question of who pays for the estimated $800,000 cost of rebuilding the non-secure side of the Juvenile Center? No settlement has been offered by the contractor or the contractor’s insurance company.

So, the question of who pays for what is a subject that could result in litigation. Tri-County has engaged an attorney in the event of a lawsuit.

While the Juvenile Center presents the big question mark in the preparation of a budget, things are going well in the operations of the Northwest Regional Center jail and the Probation Department.

However, with this being a “contract year” for all Tri-County employee groups and with those talks ongoing, that is another important factor in the budgeting process.

All of these things make for some pretty important discussion topics when the Regional Corrections Board has its meetings. But in time there will be, shall we say, “corrections.”

Thoughts for the day:

Note to coaches: The best place to coach might just be at an orphanage — Anonymous

No one would ever have crossed the ocean if they could have gotten off the ship during the storm. — Ketterling

Disclaimer: 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