ST. PAUL, Minn. (FOX 9) - State officials say they had to step in after a complaint in January that the safety and health of people housed at the Ramsey County jail are at risk.
The Minnesota Department of Corrections sent a letter Friday ordering Sheriff Bob Fletcher to cut the jail population immediately. He has until the close of business Monday to present a plan to the state on how he'll address overcrowding, staffing and providing medical care at the jail. The jail capacity must be reduced by noon on Wednesday, under the state’s order.
DOC officials said the Ramsey County Adult Detention Center has repeatedly failed to meet minimum staffing requirements, violating state regulations.
Since September, DOC officials have found at least four instances where people housed at the jail were denied or delayed emergency medical care, according to the letter to Fletcher. Those incidents include someone involved in a car crash, someone who had ingested drugs, someone bleeding for two hours without medical attention and someone suspected of having a stroke who was admitted to the hospital an hour and a half after symptoms were first observed.
"All of those are shocking and appalling. And we know that investigation is ongoing, so hopefully we don't find more, but it's certainly possible," said County Board Chair Trista MatasCastillo.
MatasCastillo said she was first notified of issues of jail overcrowding late last fall through Ramsey County Public Health workers. She said staff reached out to the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office multiple times.
"When it was apparent after three solid communications that we were not going to get anywhere, we decided to self-report to the Department of Corrections," MatasCastillo said.
On Friday, the state ordered the jail to reduce its total capacity to 360. The 500-bed facility was also ordered to reduce its bed capacity to 324. The jail's current population is around 370, down from 444 last fall, MatasCastillo said.
The state’s investigation also found minimum staffing levels were not met during at least 12 shifts between Jan. 7 and Jan. 25.
"The quality of service certainly is jeopardized. It's uncomfortable. It's uncomfortable to be in the jail, of course. And this concern arises, and we want to make sure that people are safe when they're in our care," MatasCastillo said.
County staff members said they’ve been working on a plan all weekend to address the problem.
Fletcher told FOX 9 he's been trying to raise overcrowding concerns with the Ramsey County Board since last May.
"Overcrowding isn’t a new problem. It’s part of a nationwide trend and entirely predictable, caused by significant increases in crime, massive backlogs in the criminal justice system and a nationwide worker shortage," Fletcher said in a statement.
As for potential solutions, he said he's "aggressively recruiting and hiring corrections officers" and working with county commissioners to address the problem.
In the meantime, Fletcher said his office will move some inmates to other secure facilities in Minnesota. No inmates will be released.
Another solution he proposed is making better use of the Ramsey County Workhouse, also known as the Ramsey County Correctional Facility, which he said is only using 25 percent of its capacity.
MatasCastillo said that could be a short-term solution if funds from the sheriff’s budget could accommodate that. However, she questions whether the department has enough staff for that to be a long-term solution.
Here’s the full statement Fletcher sent FOX 9 on Sunday:
"I share the concerns about overcrowding in our jails. In fact, it’s an issue we’ve tried to raise with the county board for months and months, including as far back as last May.
"Overcrowding isn’t a new problem. It’s part of a nationwide trend and entirely predictable, caused by significant increases in crime, massive backlogs in the criminal justice system and a nationwide worker shortage.
"We’ve been working hard to address the issue by aggressively recruiting and hiring corrections officers while at the same time trying to work with our County Commissioners on solutions—like making better use of the Ramsey County Workhouse, that’s only using 25 percent of its capacity.
"We haven't gotten there yet, but I’m heartened to see the Board ready to take the challenge seriously and looking forward to working with them on a permanent solution. In the meantime, we’ll be moving some inmates to other secure facilities throughout Minnesota. No inmates will be released."