County Jail Population Nears Excess Capacity
"Jail population has just exploded," Jail Administrator Robert Majewski told the Marinette County Law Enforcement Committee at its meeting on Monday, Feb. 13. He said in January there were an average of 137 prisoners plus three on electronic monitoring.
On the day of the meeting Majewski reported the jail was holding 144 prisoners, with three more to be booked in later in the day, plus nine out on electronic monitoring and eight out on Sober Link. "If they were all in jail, we'd be at 161 inmates," he declared.
Jail capacity is theoretically 160, but that is reduced because of need to segregate the jail population by sex, age, and severity of crimes. They also are not supposed to use receiving cells for general housing. Majewski said some general prisoners are being housed in medium security cells generally used only for inmates with Huber Law work release privileges.
"We have been knocking around ideas on what we can do to get our jail population down," Majewski told the committee.
In addition, the jail staff is short three corrections officers. One new person will start this week, but there are only 19 applicants to fill the remaining vacancies, Majewski reported.
For 45 of the last 53 months jail population has been over 120, Majewski said. The state staffing plan calls for them to have 28 full time equivalent correction officers for up to 120 inmates.
Since jail Programming Director Grant Kuehnl left to work as fraud investigator with the Department of Health and Human Services the jail has been without a full time program director. Majewski said C.O. Tom Bourque has been keeping the programs going.
Chief Deputy Jim Hansen said if they need to house prisoners outside of Marinette County they do not have a line item in the budget to pay for it.
Supervisor Paul Gustafson, one of the five law Enforcement Committee members said Oconto County cannot take the overflow because their new jail is not yet finished.
Majewski said he is looking at possibly sending prisoners to Door, Outagamie or Shawano counties, the closest counties that may have room. In addition to paying room and board for prisoners the county would have the expense of transporting them to and from whatever facility they would be sent to. Some court proceedings can use teleconferencing, but others require the prisoners to be present in person.
On the good news side, Majewski said installation of the new cameras in the jail is almost complete, and there is a big difference between what they were able to see with the old cameras and what they can see now.
Also on the good news side, Bourque reported the City of Menominee Police Department was allowing Marinette County to use its virtual reality simulator to help train corrections officers. Bourque had set up the training programs. Bourque said they also did training on arrest tactics.
Menominee City Police Captain Rick Hansen was present to explain the equipment and its uses. Hansen said their department received the simulator four years ago through a Homeland Security grant. He defined it as a virtual reality projector, and said it costs about $60,000. It simulates lethal and less than lethal resolution of problems, including things like tasers, pepper spray, and guns.
Bourque praised Menominee for its willingness to share, and asked Hansen to convey kudos and thanks to Menominee Police Chief Brett Botbyl for allowing Marinette County to use the equipment for nearly two weeks of training sessions.
Supervisor Ken Keller, who chairs the committee, also thanked Botbyl for sharing, and wondered if state laws would allow them to share jail prisoners as well. No action was taken on that idea but someone recalled that had actually been discussed a few years ago. Nothing came of it at the time.
Supervisor Mike Behnke said he had seen a similar virtual reality machine at a Wisconsin Counties Association meeting a few years ago, and that one could use actual local buildings and landscapes in its scenarios.
Everyone present was invited to the training room after the meeting to see a demonstration of the simulator in use. It creates different scenarios on a life-size screen and the trainee has options for various responses. The program then generates and depicts the probable outcome, depending on what words were spoken, what decision was made, what weapon was used, if any, and what action was taken. There are simulated tasers, hand guns etc., and the screen simulates what effect each would have on the incident. An incident shown was on defusing a prisoner hostage situation.
Bourque said the equipment can even shock back the trainees if they aren't reacting correctly.
Before voting to recommend that County Board approve an amendment to the contract with Advanced Correctional Healthcare, Inc., to be effective on Jan. 3, Supervisor Cheryl Wruk asked the reason for adding the 10 extra nursing hours each week without waiting for committee and County Board approval.
Majewski explained there was a sense of urgency that required them to move quickly because of the large number of prisoners in the jail.
To other questions, Majewski had no idea just why the jail population had shot up, but said officers in Marinette county do a good job of apprehending culprits.
Sheriff Jerry Sauve was not present for the meeting. The committee was advised Drug Court will be held on Mondays from now on, and Sauve attends those sessions, but if needed for the Law Enforcement Committee meeting he will make arrangements to be there. Keller said the committee also could change their meeting date or time if they needed the sheriff to be there.
At the start of the meeting, 911 Emergency Dispatch Administrator Kirsten Bellisle reported her department still has two open positions, and two new dispatchers are in training. One has six weeks to go and the other has nine weeks.
Crews are working to get replacement tower lights up.
In preparing the 2017 budget Bellisle and the committee had discussed providing Text 911 service, which will cost $36,000, according to a quote from BayCom. The budget also included a quote of $34,136 from BayCom for maintenance service, and she thought they were both for the same item. They are two separate expenses, and if they want the Text 911 capability in 2017 she will need extra money. There is $16,770 left in the 2016 outlay account that was not needed for the tower project, that she proposed using for the Text 911 program, and she felt with that, plus an added $20,000 they could get the service this year. She said she could put it off until 2018, but Finance Director Pat Kass felt they could and should get it done this year.
"That would be my strong recommendation and I hope you will support me in this," she declared.
To questions from committee members, Bellisle said maintenance for the overall 911 telephone and internet services comes to $16,000 to $17,000 a year, and adding maintenance for the 911 Text will add $960.
There was discussion on who would use Text 911 and why they would need it. Examples included if a person were hiding and needed help they could text without making noise to reveal their hiding place, and deaf individuals would be able to communicate with the 911 system.
"If it saves one life it's worth it," commented Keller.
Supervisor George Kloppenburg, who is a former law enforcement officer, agreed 911 Text could be important. He said there is one hearing impaired family in his district, and Marinette County has an aging population in which more and more people could find themselves hard of hearing and unable to use regular telephones for conversation. He said a person needing protection in a domestic abuse incident could hide in a closed while texting without revealing their location, and repeated Keller's comments that if it saves a single life, it's worth it.
Motion to send the recommendation to the Finance committee and then the full County Board for approval was unanimous.
Emergency Government Director Eric Burmeister reported that on the following day he and Information Services Director Kevin Solway, who runs the county's computer services, would be going to Wausau for an exercise on handling a long-term power outage. He said they have ben discussing how to deal with the cyber effect of a long term outage.
Burmeister and Solway also have been working with Wisconsin Public Service on a tabletop exercise on response to a hydro-emergency at High Falls Dam. If the spillway there failed there are thousands in the flood area, he said.
They also will be involve in exercises involving the ingestion zone of Point Beach Nuclear Power Plant. If there were a breakdown, food and water in Marinette County could be contaminated.
Keller commented nuclear power plants have been "kind of moth balled" in recent years, but with today's shortage of other fuels they may need to look at using them again. The Point Beach plant is currently closed.
Near the end of the meeting the committee reviewed financial reports and approved invoices.
Kloppenburg asked if committee members could get this information mailed to them sooner, rather than receive the reports at the meeting without time for review. That will be a discussion item for next month, as will a possible policy change that would allow ordering squad cars shortly after the budget is approved.
Invoices approved totaled $61,970. The committee agreed to write off inmate reimbursements totaling $36,423.78, civil process fees of $70, and alarm fees of $25.
The committee also approved a motion to write off and turn over to the Finance Department for collections inmate reimbursement accounts totaling $36,175.08. Prior discussions had explained that even though written off from this account, efforts by the Finance Department to collect will continue.
During the past month the department had been paid $317.50 in inmate reimbursements through Finance Systems Collection Agency plus $5,368.69 through the Finance Department. Finance Department efforts also led to payment of $70 in delinquent civil process fees.
Recent stories, opinions and photos