Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher has detailed plans to swiftly reduce the county jail's population as ordered by the Minnesota Department of Corrections, which says insufficient staffing levels pose serious physical harm to prisoners at the facility.
The move comes as Fletcher and county leaders debate who is responsible for the crowded jail conditions and as the board chair raises "command climate issues and the internal cultural issues" at the facility.
Dozens of prisoners will be moved to the county workhouse, jails in other counties and state prisons, Fletcher said in a letter sent Monday to Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) Commissioner Paul Schnell.
Schnell told Fletcher in a letter dated Friday that the jail must reduce its maximum operating capacity to 324 beds from 492. Schnell said an ongoing investigation has found violations of five state rules designed to ensure jails have enough staff on duty to keep the facilities' populations safe.
At the end of last week, the jail held about 370 prisoners, county spokeswoman Rose Lindsay said. That compares with 444 in October, but still exceeds the new mandate.
Schnell's letter instructed the jail to meet the new threshold by noon Wednesday.
In Fletcher's letter to Schnell, he outlined what he calls "action steps" to reduce the jail population immediately:
- Move 30 to 50 female prisoners to the county workhouse.
- Send 30 to 50 prisoners to jails in several counties in the Twin Cities and elsewhere in Minnesota.
- Arrange with the DOC to house 25 prisoners under "interim commitment," which refers to those who have been convicted and await sentencing.
- Request permission from the County Board to increase jail staffing levels.
Fletcher has said he has been aggressively recruiting and hiring more corrections officers but that county leaders must provide more resources and make better use of other facilities, such as the workhouse, for inmates.
Fletcher also took to Facebook to show that the County Board has known of the jail's overpopulation since early May but has failed to solve the problem. The posting includes video of him addressing the board about the issue multiple times last year.
The posting appears to be pushback to comments made last weekend by Board Chair Trista MatasCastillo, who said the concerns raised to Fletcher's office by public health officials, including some who work in the jail, went "unanswered." She said county leadership then voluntarily took the concerns to the DOC.
MatasCastillo said at Tuesday morning's board meeting that she also spoke with Fletcher over the weekend about the "need to address the command climate issues and the internal cultural issues at the jail."
"I pushed the sheriff really hard on that," she said.
County Manager Ryan O'Connor followedand outlined the back-and-forth between the Sheriff's Office and county leaders about the jail's overpopulation and the impact on the well-being of inmates. He also recounted two events in recent years to illustrate the chair's broader point.
One was the beating in 2016 of a 27-year-old inmate by corrections officers that resulted in a $500,000 settlement. The second was the time a jail superintendent barred officers of color from guarding Derek Chauvin over worries their race might have created a problem around the fired white Minneapolis police officer who murdered a Black man, George Floyd, in May 2020. The board settled a suit with those officers for $1.46 million.
Schnell's letter to Fletcher about jail crowding described four incidents that violated Minnesota's requirements for checking on the well-being of people in jails and providing them with medical care in a timely manner:
- One man who was brought to the jail received no food or water and was bleeding while unattended.
- Staff waited more than an hour to call an ambulance for someone suffering a stroke. Jail staff told medical workers they lacked the personnel to call right away.
- Staff prevented medical workers from screening a person who had come into the jail after a traffic crash.
- Someone who arrived at the jail told medical staff he had swallowed drugs. Medical workers ordered him sent to the hospital for a screening, but correctional staff refused to comply.
Star Tribune staff writer Andy Mannix contributed to this report.