• November 5, 2014
Hennepin County Public Safety Facility

Hennepin County Public Safety Facility

If you are one of the fortunate ones, the accompanying photo shows the doors that you get to go through when entering the Hennepin County Public Safety Facility on South 4th Ave., in downtown Minneapolis. For those less fortunate, entry (in handcuffs) is through an extremely secure underground garage.

I was honored to be invited on a tour of the facility conducted by Lieutenant Brent Sizer and facilitated by Hennepin County District Judge Jay Quam last week. I tagged along with executives from Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota.

Minnesota Litigator normally focuses exclusively on civil litigation but this opportunity was too interesting to pass up. And Minnesota Litigator readers should learn a bit about this alternate legal world, which is foreign and forbidding (but related).

About 100 people cycle in an out of this jail every day with a maximum population of around 840 beds. (“Beds” means places for a humans to lie down. It does not mean a bed like the one where you live.) When I visited, the “daily pop” was 721.

About 36,000 people a year get booked into this jail. Average lengths of stay depend on whether detaines are there for misdemeanors (2-3 days), gross misdemeanors (6-7 days), or felonies (13-14 days). These are average stays. Some stays are significantly longer.

Some members of our community seem to get stuck in a revolving door of incarceration. In fact 75% of the yearly population of the jail are “repeats.” That is, they are all too familiar with the facility and the facility, in turn, is familiar with them.

It is unclear how many of the facility population suffer from mental illness. These data are extremely difficult to track. But as many as 20% of the population appear to have been prescribed medication for mental health issues (and maybe this percentage could be as high as 30% for cases “flying under the radar”). And a 2006 nationwide study, Lt. Sizer told us, estimated inmate population with some kind of mental health problem at approximately 60%.

So to say, “You have got to be crazy to put yourself at risk of going to jail” has an element of literal truth…

The facility appeared clean, quiet, as humane as can be under the circumstances, and well-run. Lt. Sizer and all of the facility personnel that we saw appeared respectful and professional of the detainees. (The facility, in fact, has American Correctional Association accreditation, which is only given to 4-5% of jails nationally.) The tour was nevertheless (predictably) gut-wrenching and scary for someone like me, that is, a privileged suburban professional.

And to learn about the staggering role of mental illness and its consequences in this context — the average stays, by the way, described above do not apply to the mentally ill whose stays can be prolonged in light of assessment challenges and others — was eye-opening. Folks like Lt. Sizer, his colleagues, Judge Quam and his colleagues, deserve congratulations for their good work but also our concrete support and our action to do whatever we can do to help in criminal justice system’s on-going efforts and challenges.



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