The economy, changes in jail population and the lapse of a contract forced the change.
Sherburne County, which rarely has come close to filling its jail in recent years and is housing fewer county and federal inmates, is laying off 17 corrections employees.
While inmate populations throughout Minnesota have declined, the situation involving the Elk River jail is more involved. Not only does Sherburne County have a contract with the U.S. marshals office to house federal prisoners, it also had an agreement to house inmates from Anoka County. But once Anoka County remodeled its Lino Lakes facility, it no longer needed to ship prisoners to Elk River.
"Essentially, we eliminated our security patrol unit," Sherburne County Sheriff Joel Brott said Friday. "We no longer needed it.
"The minimums for staffing the jail aren't going down. But we aren't double-bunking inmates, like we have."
The 17 layoffs come in addition to eight positions that have gone unfilled, Brott said.
In a memo submitted to the County Board this month, Brott explained that the security patrol unit that was approved in 2006 by the Minnesota Department of Corrections allowed the sheriff's office to add 16 positions to its staff. A variance allowed the facility to double-bunk inmates. But with no expected significant increases in inmate population, the security patrol unit became expendable.
The 17 eliminated positions include 12 corrections officers, two licensed correctional officers and three part-time staff members. Those layoffs are expected to save the county $1.85 million.
Brott said he had hoped to reduce staff through attrition, but that wasn't possible. The layoffs take effect next month.
Lots of empty beds
The jail in Elk River has bed space for 667 inmates. On Friday, it housed 413 -- 340 federal inmates and 73 county inmates.
"We've been in the 500s, around 550 in years past, but we've never been at capacity," Brott said.
"Fewer inmates, for some, that's good news," Brott said. "Jail populations are very cyclical. But losing the Anoka contract continued the downturn in numbers."
The Anoka County Sheriff's Office also will feel a budget squeeze, eliminating two detention deputy positions and closing its booking station in Blaine.
"My concern is the dollar sign becoming more valuable than public safety," said Anoka County Sheriff James Stuart.
"National crime rates are down because of focused law-enforcement controls," Stuart said. "What happens if we don't have resources to focus on crime trends? If cuts come, at some point crime trends will no longer be reduced."
Stuart said that an additional $795,000 needed to be eliminated from an already-reduced 2012 budget. He said the county budget cuts in no way affect the contracts the sheriff's office has with eight Anoka County communities that don't have police departments of their own. Those contracts have guaranteed hours, Stuart said.
Of the once-valued contract with Sherburne County, Anoka County Administrator Jerry Soma said, "We had a better financial deal buying beds from Sherburne County" than housing prisoners in Lino Lakes. "But with the number of U.S. Marshal prisoners we're having in our jails decreasing, we moved our own sentenced people back to Lino Lakes."
Paul Levy • 612-673-4419