Thursday, March 13, 2014 | NEWS
Supervisors take annual tour of Burnett County jail
Small multipurpose room costs several hundred thousand dollars
Jean Koelz|Staff writer
BURNETT COUNTY—The final agenda item for the Thursday, March 6, public safety committee was the annual county jail tour led by jail Administrator Jared Woody. From the crowded elevator ride to the narrow processing area and to the cramped quarters, Woody was able to demonstrate why so many people agree that the county’s facilities are inadequate.
“Why don’t you show them what our officers have to do here?” Sheriff Dean Roland urged Woody to point out safety risks at the beginning of the tour. There is very little room at the processing counter where prisoners are identified, photographed, and fingerprinted, forcing close proximity and bodily contact between jailers and prisoners in a potentially contentious situation.
“It’s not safe for our officers,” Roland concluded. Then he added, “We should’ve combined with Polk County when we had the chance.”
“Ninety-nine percent of our inmates are very cooperative,” Woody explained. Indeed, one orange-and-white-stripe-clad inmate chatted pleasantly with the tour group as he made his way to the kitchen. However, the bulk of the tour was spent demonstrating what happens with the more difficult guests of the county.
Woody led the group inside one of two receiving rooms – narrow and high-ceilinged rooms equipped with a cement slab topped with a new thin plastic mattress pad, a toilet and a small drain in the floor. “The paint is stain-proof and washable,” Woody explained. “These rooms clean up nicely.” The second of the two rooms is handicapped accessible, outfitted with a special handrail that recently had to be replaced with a type that wasn’t as conducive to suicide attempts.
For prisoners who are so out of control that they pose a threat to themselves, officers have no choice but to confine them to a restraint chair. Arms and legs are secured in a simple, angled, rolling chair usually after quite a struggle. “It takes four officers to get a regular-sized person in the chair,” Woody explained. “The prisoners have the power to get out of the chair by cooperating with the process.” Fortunately, such highly disruptive inmates are rare; Woody estimates they use the restraint chair just once a month or so.
Woody led the group into the library, a room about the size and appearance of an average office conference room. Metal bookshelves with paperbacks line one wall with a large table in the center. “This is the problem room,” Woody said. “This room is why we lost our beds,” he said, referring to last year’s mandate by the Department of Corrections to remove nine beds from the jail. The loss of beds means that Burnett County has to find and pay for prisoner housing elsewhere, usually Polk County, which could easily exceed $400,000 in additional jail expenses in 2014.
“We didn’t lose the beds because the rooms were too crowded,” Woody explained, “we lost them because this multipurpose room isn’t big enough to accommodate everyone at once.” For example, not all inmates would be able to attend if a church service or AA meeting were scheduled there. It came as a surprise to everyone on the tour that, by the Department of Corrections’ standards, the number of beds has to be limited by the number of people that can be accommodated for socializing.
Although some parts of the jail may be remodeled as part of the dispatch center overhaul, it is unlikely that there is a solution for the multipurpose room in the jail’s current location. The revelation prompted mutterings that the county may spend a lot of money on a remodel and be forced to move anyway because 27 beds are not enough to service the county’s routine inmate population.