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Ramsey County sheriff ordered to shrink jail population

The Ramsey County ADC must submit its capacity-reduction plan by close of business on Monday, and the reduced capacity must be achieved no later than noon Wednesday.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota Department of Corrections Commissioner (DOC) Paul Schnell ordered Ramsey Country Sheriff Bob Fletcher to reduce the capacity of the Ramsey County Jail on Friday, alleging a number of minimum standard violations. 

The Ramsey County Adult Detention Center (ADC), located at 425 Grove St. in St. Paul, has demonstrated a pattern of noncompliance with the state's minimum standards, according to the order.

Schnell said the current licensed capacity is just under 500; under the conditional license order, the approved capacity is reduced to 360 inmates while the operational bed capacity is reduced to 324 inmates. 

"This order is based on the Ramsey County ADC's failure to substantially conform to the minimum standards required under Minnesota Rules chapter 2911, and its failure to make satisfactory progress toward substantial conformance," reads the letter. 

"We felt that the issues were such that there was immediate risk to life and safety," Schnell said. "So we felt like that action was necessary in order to ensure the safety of people who are in Ramsey County jail custody."  

Key violations alleged in the order are:

Failed to meet minimum staffing requirements 

During an ongoing DOC investigation, the Ramsey County ADC was asked to submit a staffing plan that met minimum levels by Dec. 31. The center submitted a plan on Dec. 30 that said it was meeting the state rules, however, a copy of the DOC's order states that "minimum staffing levels were not met during 12 shifts" between Jan. 7 and Jan. 25.

Repeated incidents of failing to provide medical care to inmates

The letter makes note of four separate incidents in which the DOC alleges inmates in the jail were not given proper medical care. In one incident, an inmate was assessed by medical staff who directed she be sent for medical care, via ambulance, due to a suspected stroke. However, no ambulance was called until over an hour later. 

Pattern of failure to conduct timely and appropriate well-being checks

According to the order, Ramsey County ADC has a "long-documented history" of failing to conduct timely and appropriate well-being checks on those in custody. "Those are the rounds that have to happen. So we're making sure that people are safe, that they're okay, that they're conscious... alert," Schnell said. "In one instance here, there was a person who was found to be in their cell for a lengthy period of time and was found to be bleeding for several hours."

In a statement to KARE 11, Ramsey County said, "Ramsey County Public Health made several attempts over a period of months to notify the Sheriff's office of concerns regarding lack of access to medical care for residents at the Adult Detention Center. After these attempts went unanswered, staff elevated their concerns to executive county leadership. The Board of Commissioners and leadership team immediately determined to voluntarily self-report the situation to the Department of Corrections for further review and to ensure the safety and wellbeing of residents and staff.

Ramsey County Board Chair Trista MatasCastillo said, "After learning of several incidents where Public Health staff were unable to provide residents with necessary medical support, we voluntarily self-reported our concerns to the Department of Corrections and stand in full support of the issuance of the conditional license and their investigation. We will work with the Sheriff to ensure he is able to fully comply with this order, and we wish that we would have been able to address these issues earlier when legitimate concerns to him were raised."

MatasCastillo said staff is meeting Monday and will be able to offer some solutions to the sheriff. 

Sheriff Fletcher also provided a statement to KARE 11, saying, "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."

"Our inspectors will be monitoring, working with jail officials to monitor and track what the staffing levels are and their ability to respond to the acute needs of people who may be in their custody," Schnell said. "What we would want to be able to see is a demonstrated period of time that that's happening."

Ramsey County ADC must submit its capacity-reduction plan by close of business on Monday. The reduced capacity must be achieved no later than noon on Wednesday. 

"No matter how you cut this — and I understand that if you're running short already, or at minimum staffing levels, and then you have a medical crisis occur — but you have to find a way to manage and navigate that situation because somebody's life depends upon it," Schnell said. 

The jail can request reconsideration of the order, but any such request does not stay the order to lower the capacity of the facility, according to the letter.

Just last week the DOC ordered the Beltrami County Jail to reduce its inmate capacity after state inspectors said Beltrami County Jail staff tried to stop or delay sick inmates from getting emergency medical care, resulting in sanctions for "conditions that pose an imminent risk of life-threatening harm."

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