Jail looking for answers to space concerns

Published 6:12 pm Friday, October 1, 2021

The Mower County Sheriff’s Office has some tough questions to answer in the near future as it seeks to cope with a rising jail population.

In his report to the Mower County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, Sheriff Steve Sandvik said that in particular the jail is looking for ways to cope with a rise of inmates with medical and mental health needs and how those inmates are in turn affecting the rest of the jail.

Sheriff Steve Sandvik

“We don’t have a medical wing within our jail,” Sandvik said. “What we’re finding in the last several weeks is that our intake is full of medical and mental health concerns that we cannot move.”

As of Tuesday, the Mower County Jail had 73 inmates, including a higher than usual count of female inmates. In years past, Sandvik said that the jail would normally house around eight and nine female inmates. Lately, however, that number is closer to 16-17, which Sandvik said is “pretty remarkable.”

While it’s not the female inmate population that is necessarily pushing concerns, the pod they are housed in could provide the answer to the medical and mental health inmates down the line as the jail looks to find specialized rooms for those inmates.

“It’s just become an expanding, overwhelming problem with mental health, chemical addiction and physical health,” Sandvik said in a separate interview Thursday.

Sandvik said that the Sheriff’s Department has made a request to the county to expand medical providers, hours of service, additional nursing staff, physician hours, and additional mental health providers.

However, the demand for space still plays a major part in the plan. Currently, intake consists of 10 beds, though it could play host to a maximum of 11 beds. Tuesday morning there were five, but last Thursday there were nine.

“We’re constantly full and we’re having to either get doctors to clear them to larger units or transport them to the hospital,” Sandvik told the board.

There are two ways the jail could possibly go. One option is remodeling the interior of the jail that would see the female-only pod’s 44 beds split in two and use that extra space for inmates with medical and mental health concerns. But there is also the possibility of making use of the space the jail already had worked into the building from day one. When the jail was designed and built, it was done so that it could be readily built onto should the day arise.

With either option, it’s still going to be some time before the county and Sheriff’s Department know exactly which way it’s going.

“That would be a little ways down the road,” Sandvik said. “We’re in the early stages of looking at economic feasibility. We could add a full other pod that would connect. Would that be the more fiscally feasible option? It might be quicker just to add a wall.”

Unfortunately, Sandvik isn’t really sure why the inmate population is rising in the first place.

“We really don’t (know),” he said Tuesday, answering the question from Commissioner Mike Ankeny. “Whether it’s largely due to failure to appear, failure to abide by court conditions. It’s definitely been up since the courts have been opened back up and resumed.”