Getting out from behind bars should be a relief, but inmates leaving the Dakota County jail often immediately encounter a new dilemma: How to get out of Hastings.
"When you get out, it's now what? Now I'm in the middle of a cornfield," said David Krygiel, who left the jail Wednesday after turning himself in on a warrant.
A new county-led initiative is trying to solve the problem, arranging for twice-a-day buses and $5 Metro Transit passes to use upon arrival at a transit station.
"With Hastings being the county seat and where the jail is, there's just a general lack of public transportation," said Brian Kopperud, Dakota County community corrections director. "It's a historical issue."
The six-month pilot program, which began in July, has experienced some hiccups, including timing issues with the busing service that now stops at the jail. While most inmates are released in the early morning hours or between 4 and 6 p.m., Transit Link, the Metropolitan Council-provided bus service, only comes at 1 and 4 p.m.
And the probation office, where ex-inmates get bus passes, closes at 4:30 p.m., adding another obstacle for those released in the evening.
On Tuesday, Kopperud told county commissioners about the project's challenges so far — and about plans to add a new transit option to address the scheduling concerns.
The effort has also seen success, as most people who receive the Metro Transit cards are using them. Of 141 cards given out, 94 have been used within 24 hours, Kopperud said.
Transportation is a pressing problem for many people just getting out of jail because they often lack money or a charged cellphone to make calls, Kopperud said.
Friends or family might be busy at work or not own a car. Relationships with family may be strained, he said.
It's common for those released to try to walk along Hwy. 55 to St. Paul.
"I don't think we can go, 'You got yourself into this pickle, now get yourself out,' " Kopperud said. "Sometimes people don't have the resources, nor do they have the skill set."
The original plan arranged for Transit Link, which serves parts of the metro where regular transit service is infrequent or unavailable, to stop at the jail at no cost.
Many ex-inmates were working around Transit Link's specific schedule by finding rides to a transit station and then using their bus pass, Kopperud said, but it didn't work for everyone.
The new plan is to pay for Smart Ride, a van service, to come at 6:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. That contract is being negotiated. Service, which will probably cost the county about $500 a week, is expected by Nov. 1. Jail staff may also distribute the bus cards, Kopperud said.
About $17,000 has been allotted from an existing fund in the county's community services budget for the program. Kopperud said that visitors coming to Hastings for court dates, social services appointments or to pick up a child in juvenile detention also struggle to find rides.
Jon Frankenfield, who had a court date Wednesday, said he usually takes an Uber at a cost of $36 to the courthouse. Not everyone can afford that, he said, calling the situation "ridiculous."
County Commissioner Mike Slavik said he's excited about Smart Ride. Once the trial period ends, he said, "We're very optimistic and hopeful that we can actually address this problem on a more permanent level."