Population dips at county jail

Published 10:50 am Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Mower County’s jail population has dipped after peaking at just under 100 late last year.

Mower County Sheriff Terese Amazi told the county board Tuesday morning that jail populations averaged 66 in January with nine being women and 65 in February with 12 being women.

This comes after Mower County’s jail population hit 98 last September.

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After Monday saw 72 inmates, the jail population dipped to 59 on Tuesday, with 12 women both days.

A big reason for the decrease since last year is people going to other facilities.

“We’ve been hauling a lot to prison,” Amazi said, noting Mower has sent several people on to prison in a large van recently.

At a meeting with Vision 2020 and county officials last week, Amazi said a high jail population, all of which are county inmates, is a cost concern. The jail budget is about $7.6 million a year, and Amazi said the community is always high on the population trend.

“We know we’ve got issues and it’s costly, and we’re paying for it,” she said last week.

The jail can operate as is at up to 87 inmates, but the county hits problems at 88.

If the jail population consistently hits 88 inmates, the county would need to contact the Department of Corrections and either board out anyone over 87 or possibly hire five new jailers.

Another concern has been jailers. In recent months, Amazi said the county has seen challenges in hiring and keeping staff at the jail. They currently have one position open.

“It’s tough keeping people,” Amazi said.

County Coordinator Craig Oscarson and Amazi said when they started the county about three decades ago, the jailer positions were much different than they are today. Over time, they’ve grown much more challenging.

“It’s a whole ‘nother animal over there,” Amazi said.

Unless it’s rare circumstances, Amazi said very few people are in the jail on misdemeanors, and the jail sees a lot of repeat criminals. With the need currently at or just under three judges with only two chambered judges, Amazi said it’s not uncommon for people to often spend much time in jail before going to trial.

Mower County is slated to add a third chambered judge this summer after the Minnesota Supreme Court approved moving a Ramsey County position to Mower County after a retirement.

Amazi and the board acknowledged that there are shortages of jail beds across the state that are being discusses; however, a shortage of mental health beds is another driving factor.

Many people in jails suffer from mental health concerns, and Amazi and Oscarson noted there aren’t enough facilities around the state to serve the need, which means many people end up committing crimes and being jailed.

“There aren’t enough mental health beds available to put these people,” Amazi said.

On a plus side, Amazi told the board the office has seen success in a drop box to collect unused pharmaceutical drugs in an effort to keep them off the streets.

Last year, the county collected and eventually burned about 660 pounds of pharmaceuticals. Another shipment is going to be transported to a burn facility soon.