Sheriff Sounds Alarm As Ramsey County Jail Population Grows – Twin Cities

Inside the Ramsey County Jail, there are nights when people sleep on mattresses on plastic beds because there aren’t enough beds.

After evacuating many people from the prison during the coronavirus pandemic, the St. Paul facility is full again, but there are now new concerns.

  • Ramsey County Jail Deputy Superintendent Michael Johnson speaks about the lack of room in a hallway with spare mattresses at St. Paul Jail on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022. (John Autey/Pioneer Press)

  • A stack of blue mattresses near a prison window.  Another pile of plastic containers that the mattresses fit into.

    “Ship” beds are stored in a recreation area at Ramsey County Jail in St. Paul on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022. (John Autey/Pioneer Press)

  • A man in a prison uniform opens a meal tray to look at the food inside.

    Ramsey County Jail Deputy Superintendent Michael Johnson looks over a lunch served to inmates at St. Paul Jail Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022. Since signing a contract with a new vendor Johnson says the quality of prison meals has improved. (John Autey/Pioneer Press)

  • Barrier fence built on the second floor of a prison.

    Suicide prevention barriers on the second floor of a housing pod at Ramsey County Jail in St. Paul on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022. (John Autey/Pioneer Press)

  • A prison official takes care of a temporary bed.

    Johnson shows a “boat” bed used when there is a lack of space in the cells. (John Autey/Pioneer Press)

  • A housing module in a prison, with a barrier fence on the second floor that is open to the first floor.

    A housing pod with new suicide prevention barriers on the second floor of Ramsey County Jail in St. Paul on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022. (John Autey/Pioneer Press)

  • The reservation room in a prison, with chairs.

    The booking room at Ramsey County Jail in St. Paul on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022. (John Autey/Pioneer Press)

  • A full body security scan in a prison.

    A full body security scanner replaces body searches at Ramsey County Jail in St. Paul on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022. (John Autey/Pioneer Press)

  • A temporary holding cell in a prison, with built-in seats and a wall of windows.

    A temporary holding cell, like this transfer cell, will often house several inmates on a busy night at Ramsey County Jail in St. Paul, seen Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022. (John Autey/Pioneer Press)

The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office, which operates the jail, told county council members that a variety of factors were at work, including:

  • A backlog in state courts due to the pandemic.
  • More people are being held for murder or attempted murder.
  • More people awaiting court-ordered assessments for mental illness.

“The care and safety of inmates in our jail is at risk if the population continues to grow,” Sheriff Bob Fletcher told county commissioners recently.

The sheriff’s office has requested an additional $2 million for inmate housing and food next year. The prison budget is $21.7 million this year.

County commissioners met with staff from the courts, public health, corrections and other departments about how to reduce the number of people in jail when they’re not being held for violent crimes, Trista said. MatasCastillo, President of Ramsey County Council. commissioners.

“At the same time, we’re taking a deeper look at the harder-to-resolve mental health situations,” she said. “There are a ton of budgetary implications and no easy solutions.”

SHARP INCREASE IN MENTAL HEALTH ASSESSMENTS

The Ramsey County Adult Detention Center is a remand facility intended to hold people for a short period of time. The average stay is six days, but some, like murder suspects, can be held for a year or more, said Lt. Mike Johnson, the prison’s deputy superintendent. Last week, 36 people were detained for murder or attempted murder.

The average stay is 72 days for people waiting for a mental health skills assessment, Johnson said.

“The fact is, they don’t belong in a jail,” Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt told a meeting of the county council’s budget committee. “They belong to mental health facilities or get services.”

Although the prison has mental health counsellors, it is not intended to be a place of intensive treatment.

If a judge, prosecutor, or defense attorney believes that a person accused of a crime does not understand their legal process because of a mental illness or cognitive problem, such as a head injury, they may request a skills assessment.

The number of competency assessments ordered by the Ramsey County District Court has increased 84% from 2020 to 2021, and this year’s numbers are on track to exceed last year, according to court records.

Court rules require skills assessments to be completed within 60 days, but assessors cannot keep up with the caseload, Ramsey County Chief Judge Leonardo Castro said. Judges can order people to be released from prison, under certain conditions, if they do not present a flight risk or a threat to the public; otherwise, the deposit is fixed.

At least 30 people in the Ramsey County Jail last week were awaiting skills assessments, Johnson said.

SLEEP ON ‘BOATS’

A prison official takes care of a temporary bed.
Johnson shows a “boat” bed used when there is a lack of space in the cells. (John Autey/Pioneer Press)

Looking at the Ramsey County Jail’s average daily population in June of different years, it was 319 in 2013; 379 in 2019; 172 during the pandemic in 2020; and 424 in June, according to the sheriff’s office. The high was 473 over the summer, Johnson said.

Any time the population exceeds 440, it “causes logistical problems for us,” Fletcher told the county council. The prison’s average daily population has been above that number since April.

When the prison exceeds 440, some inmates have to sleep on a mattress on a Stack-A-Bunk – prison staff call them “boats” because they look like small canoes. There were three people who slept on the temporary beds from Tuesday evening to Wednesday morning.

Although the prison has 492 beds, the traditional cells have bunk beds and the prison cannot use all of them because they have to separate people by gender or risk – people with the most serious mental health or behavioral problems are being held in cells with no other inmates, Johnson said. They also quarantine people when they arrive at the prison to make sure they don’t have COVID-19.

WORKING THROUGH THE BACKGROUND

Thousands of cases through Minnesota’s court system have been put on hold during the coronavirus pandemic. Ramsey County had a backlog of about 1,500 misdemeanor and felony cases, but they were able to reduce it by about 20 percent, Castro said.

“This backlog has a significant impact on those involved in the justice system, be it the accused, family members of the victim, members of the community. Their lives are on hold,” Castro said. “We need and want these issues to be addressed.”

The Ramsey County Court System is coordinating with prosecutors and defense attorneys to set up back-to-back hearings for less serious cases that are dragging through the court system. Castro said the latest involved about 60 cases of people being held in prison for non-violent offenses; however, it was around 30 people as some had more than one case, Johnson said.

The next set of cases Castro said they are aiming to get through the court system are felony charges from suburban Ramsey County. There are more than 200 cases that were filed at least six months ago, Castro said.

These are not “catch and release” situations, Castro said, but letting people go through their day in court without further ado. If cases are not resolved by guilty pleas or remands, judges aim to ensure that trials are scheduled quickly.

If the courts can continue to push cases through the system, prison can return to a population that is back in the “safe range,” Reinhardt said recently.

REQUEST $2M FOR FOOD, HOUSING

County commissioners who heard Fletcher talk about the jail at a budget meeting this month said they were concerned about the situation, but told the sheriff his budget request was too late for meaningful discussion. .

Reinhardt, who chairs the budget committee, noted that a letter regarding the budget from Chief Deputy Dave Metusalem arrived late afternoon the day before Fletcher’s presentation and the PowerPoint presentation arrived on morning of the presentation.

“To get something so late…it’s not respectful of our process or this county council,” Reinhardt said. “…We will do a full analysis of everything.”

Fletcher said the information was part of the ongoing discussions they were having about the prison and they weren’t just starting to address it. The commissioners listened to the sheriff’s presentation and said they would get back to his office on the budget requests.

The sheriff’s office requested $1.5 million to house inmates in other locations and for a $471,000 food service cut from 2023 to be reinstated.

Because Ramsey County is working on a two-year budget cycle, county commissioners are not proposing changes to the 4.54% property tax increase for 2023 they approved last December. The budget talks they have had focus on a $785 million supplementary budget for next year, which they will vote on in December.

TAX TAX ENTRY

The Ramsey County Board of Commissioners will vote on Tuesday to approve the proposed maximum tax levy to fund the 2023 budget.

Residents, businesses and other stakeholders can submit comments on the budget to commissioners via an online comment form available at ramseycounty.us/Budget. They can also contact their curator directly.

A public hearing on the budget took place this month and a second will take place on November 28 at 6:30 p.m.