AUSTIN, Minn. – One local county justice system is seeing an increasing number of criminals come through their doors, and staying, It’s resulting in higher numbers of inmates at a given time.
These are numbers, they just don’t have the staff for.
“Since about the beginning of the year, we’ve seen definitely a population increase and it was substantial,” says Sheriff Terese Amazi of Mower County.
The new Mower County Jail opened only 4 years ago. Since then, the number of inmates has increased.
“Our average daily was between 60 and 70 and now we’re in the 80s,” says Amazi.
She says there are plenty of factors contributing to this rise.
“Well, I think a lot of serious assaults, people that you know are not being turned back into the community or released on bail or have a very high bails and can’t make the bail, we also have continued drug offenses and multiple drug offenses,” says Amazi.
Because of the serious cases and high dollar bails, Amazi hasn’t seen the number drop back down.
“Every time we have a few leave, we get a few more in,” she says.
If that number continues to climb, the Department of Corrections will step in.
“Maybe once we hit that 88, and we continue to meet or exceed that, we’re going to have to look at hiring additional staff,” says Amazi.
That’s because they operate on ratios. For every 40 inmates, there must be one jail employee on duty. So hiring more staff is one idea, but it will be costly.
“The employee cost alone would result in about a 2% tax levy increase, so everyone’s property taxes on the county portion of the taxes will go up by about 2%, but then you also have to figure out other parts of the jail budget would increase,” says County Coordinator Craig Oscarson.
They would have to hire an additional 5 workers so they can operate at maximum capacity. Another option is sending inmates elsewhere.
“Can we board out some of the excess until we find out if this is really going to become truly a new stable population,” says Oscarson.
He hopes the increase is temporary and that the jail population will go back down.
“We’d like the population to be zero,” says Oscarson.
A final decision will depend on how that inmate number fluctuates in the next few months. Either way, he says it is a good thing they chose to build this facility in Austin.
“I think if nothing else, it kind of shows, where maybe the public won’t agree with me or the sheriff, why we needed to build this jail a few years ago,” says Oscarson.
They are required to submit numbers to the Department of Corrections every three months, which is when county officials will know if they need to make this decision.