County to add three to jail staff

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 4, 2003

Preparations for the opening of Freeborn County’s new jail have begun, with the county board approving the hire of three new jailers. It’s the start of a staff buildup that may include up to eight more jailers to guard the 117-bed facility.

After recently hiring one male and one female jailer to reach the jail’s normal staffing level, Jail Administrator Steve Westland asked the board for permission to hire three more jailers, which would allow him to assign three veteran staff members to a transition team to prepare for the new jail.

The three extra jailers will stay on after the jail opens because that facility, which will replace the existing 42-bed jail, will require as many as 11 more jailers to operate, said Commissioner Dave Mullenbach.

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The transition team is a step mandated by the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC). Starting in July, the jailers will spend months undergoing training and developing plans and policies for the new jail, which will be laid out differently than the current jail and must be operated differently.

&uot;Every jail that comes on line has to have a transition team to be certified,&uot; said County Administrator Ron Gabrielsen.

The hirings come at a time when the county has been cutting staff and leaving positions vacant in response to state budget cuts that will mean a drop in funding. Gabrielsen said the county has estimated a $50,000 annual cost per jailer, but said that figure is slightly high because the new employees will start at the low end of the pay scale.

Dan Belshan was the lone commissioner to vote against hiring the new jailers. He said he understood the need for the transition team but believed the county could make do with a two-person team instead of three.

Gabrielsen said the DOC recommended a three-person team for a jail of this size.

Commissioner Dan Springborg said the hires were

necessary to keep the jail on target to open next summer.

&uot;I don’t want to have to hire people, but if we’re building a jail … we need to get moving on this because I don’t want to have that facility and not be able to open it. This is just as important as bricks and mortar.&uot;

Commissioners Mark Behrends and Glen Mathiason voted to approve the hires; Commissioner Dave Mullenbach was absent for the vote.

The jail is part of the $25.7 million courthouse project that will also include new court facilities, remodeling of the 1888 courthouse building and demolition of the 1954 addition on the north end of the courthouse.

A DOC inspection this year found that the jail is overcrowded. On Feb. 3, when the inspection was conducted, there were 71 people on the waiting list and nine staying in other facilities. That means there were enough potential inmates to fill 125 beds on that day, the report said.

According to state guidelines, 35 inmates is the operational capacity of the 42-bed jail. But the average daily population in recent years has been between 39 and 42, and even more are sometimes packed in on weekends.