County jail personnel adapt to changing trends and expanding inmate needs

Staff of the Isanti County Sheriff’s Office and the Isanti County Jail do their best to adapt to trends among the types of crimes committed in the county and in the needs of the inmates who enter the jail to pay for those crimes. fr_jail_inmate_population

Isanti County Sheriff Chris Caulk and Isanti County Jail Administrator Dennis Valentyn say that in recent years the jail has seen increases in the number of drug offenders who come through the jail, in the number of people from outside the county who come through the jail and in the number of inmates who come to the jail with physical or mental health needs that jail staff must help meet when no one else can.

Isanti County jail inmate data for Jan. 20, 2017, shows 61 people in custody on that date. Thirty-one of those inmates were Isanti County residents, and 30 were out-of-county residents, roughly an even split. Including other county holds, there were 211 charges between all in custody on that date. Forty-nine of those charges were drug charges, slightly less than a quarter of the total.

The jail can technically hold 108 to 112 people at a time, depending on whether you count holding cells, Valentyn said. But 34 of the jail’s beds are minimum security beds, which lowers the number of inmates who can be effectively held at a time. There are 35 main jail beds, and 36 direct supervision beds.
When the total is broken down, 70 to 80 inmates at a time is “packed,” Valentyn and Caulk agreed.

Valentyn has watched the Isanti County Jail increase in size and seen offender trends shift during his years on the job.

“When I first started, we housed up to 38, and it was mostly your local DUIs and domestics,” he said.

The total number of inmates who passed through the jail in 2016 was 1,619, an increase of 113 inmates over 2015. Increases and decreases of 100 or more in the total inmate population from year to year are not uncommon since 2008, the first year for which total population data is available. The highest yearly population count in the available data is 2008’s, with 1,793 inmates for the year. The lowest yearly population in the available data is 1,341 in 2010.

The sheriff’s office and jail staff adapt their treatment of inmates to accommodate the correctional needs they come in with.

Due to the high numbers of people who come into jails with mental health care needs, there are more inmates who ultimately don’t belong in a traditional jail, but who would be better served in a hospital or other type of institutional setting, Caulk and Valentyn said. They said this is a trend at the state and national level. One way they and their staff have adapted to this situation is by bringing in a mental health professional for weekly visits. Inmates can request to see this professional or they can be put on a list by jail staff.

Inmates with physical care needs have increased over time as well, and a contracted doctor visits the jail on a weekly basis too. Valentyn said the medical contract is expensive, but that it is money well spent. Extradition for offenders from other counties or regions is also sometimes necessary. All of these factors affect the budget and staffing of the sheriff’s department and make things a little less predictable for them.

With increased numbers of drug cases, the jail has made in-house drug rehab services available through partnership with Teen Focus, a recovery center in Rush City.

“We’ve had very good numbers,” Valentyn said of the program. “We’ve had up to 11 males in the program at any given time.”

The number of females in the program fluctuates, tending to be much lower than the number of males because the number females in the general jail population at any given time tends to be much lower than the number of males. On Jan. 20, there were 51 male inmates and 10 female.

Although Caulk said he recognizes that the people who come through the jail have a debt to society they need to pay, he and his staff still must take into account the variety of experiences those people have and will have. There are some who will be in and out of correctional facilities repeatedly and some who will be there once and never again.

The goal Caulk keeps in mind is to increase the number of people who fall into the second category.

“At the end of the day if we can get these folks not to come back (through) the front door, we’ve succeeded,” he said.