Inmates from flood zone give county jail a revenue boost
The Hubbard County Correctional Center got some much-needed good news, in the form of Clay County inmates.
A bus carrying 28 prisoners arrived March 27 from the flooded county.
The inmates may stay as long as "three to four weeks," jail administrator Sherri Klasen told the Hubbard County Board of Commissioners Wednesday, bringing in revenues "of $9,000 weekly."
FEMA is apparently footing the bill because the inmates are here for flood-related reasons.
"Any way we can quickly raise our rates?" asked commissioner Cal Johannsen. The jail recently dropped its rates to $46 a day, a $9 decrease from the previous rates, to compete with surrounding correctional facilities also seeking inmates.
Johannsen was told the county couldn't charge FEMA more than its advertised rate.
Hubbard County Attorney Don Dearstyne was able to conduct arraignments for the Clay County inmates via an interactive court video network, but subsequent appearances may present some transportation issues, as defense attorneys want to be present with their clients at those hearings.
Klasen said the jail did add one correctional officer part-time to help administer medications and bookings for the incoming inmates.
"We might get reimbursed (from FEMA) if it reaches a certain threshold," she said of the extra labor costs.
"But you're also getting revenues against those costs," cautioned county coordinator Jack Paul.
The weekend jail population was 67 inmates, still under the 116 maximum capacity, but substantially more than it has been for the past several months.
Chief Deputy Frank Homer said Clay County has been talking about building a new correctional facility. Commissioners discussed the hopes that Clay County would instead continue to transport inmates to Park Rapids on a longer-term basis.
The Hubbard jail also will need to hire a full-time correctional officer to replace one who has resigned. The county enacted a hiring freeze earlier this year to save money.
"Are you at the minimum number of jailers?" asked board chair Lyle Robinson.
Klasen said the jail was operating at the minimum number of jailers allowable under state Department of Corrections standards to stay licensed.
"You have to have it or they'll shut the place down," said commissioner Dick Devine, in advocating filling the position.
"Maybe that wouldn't be a bad idea," Johannsen said. He later said he made the remark "in jest."
The labor costs of the jail have been a sore spot with the board, which has seen the operational expenses rise dramatically for the relatively new facility while the inmate population dwindled.
The board also allowed the jail to advertise to keep its pool of part-time help full. And it voted to spend $7,010 to build a video visitation booth for the maximum security cells, to be paid for out of inmate canteen funds.
Klasen said Cass County also contacted her for space availability, but did not ship any inmates here.
The entire Clay County courthouse has been evacuated because it is in the path of the flooding Red River.