Damien Agboola stared sheepishly out the open door of the green and white cab, weighing his next move.
Thirty minutes before, the door to the Dakota County jail had slammed behind him. He was free, but had just his cellphone and $20 on his debit card — not enough to pay the $50 fare to travel from Hastings to the Apple Valley Transit Station, where he could catch a bus to his friend’s house in St. Paul.
His aunt couldn’t come get him. His cousin had turned off his phone.
Agboola and other just-freed inmates want to get on with their lives — but some find they can’t even get out of Hastings.
Lacking transportation, they often hitchhike or walk along Hwy. 55, rankling some locals. It’s enough of a concern that county officials are now meeting to look at the problem.
“It is definitely an issue,” said Brian Kopperud, Dakota County’s community corrections director. “It’s not as simple as saying, ‘Oh, here’s a bus token,’ because oh, there’s no bus.”
The lack of transportation is just another obstacle for the 800 people booked into the jail monthly, half of whom live in another county.
“The first 72 hours that somebody gets out of [incarceration] are probably the most crucial,” said Chris Doege, re-entry services manager for Amicus’ Reconnect program, which helps people convicted of crimes when they’re released.
“If their first experience getting out is that they’ve got to hoof it to wherever, bad things can happen.”
In response to concerns, Sheriff Tim Leslie and representatives from three other county departments have met several times. This month, they’ll begin surveying people about transportation needs as they exit the jail.
A ‘geographic reality’
As Agboola, 31, considered his options, he knew what he was up against.
“I’ll be stranded for a long time,” he said. “Walk from here to Apple Valley? That would take like five years.”
Kelly Harder, Dakota County’s community services director, said he has spotted former inmates walking along the road in Hastings on many occasions. He’s picked them up a handful of times.
Last summer, he recalled stopping for a 67-year-old veteran hitchhiking on a steamy, 100-degree day. The man was trekking 12 miles to South St. Paul because he had no money or phone. He wasn’t allowed to bring them when he was picked up on a warrant, Harder said.
Part of the problem is the sudden nature of going to jail.
“Few, when they woke up in the morning, were planning to go to jail,” Harder said. “Whether or not they have resources, they might not have any on them at the moment.”
There’s also uncertainty in a person’s release date and time, so it’s difficult to plan ahead. While someone may have a hunch that they’ll be let go after a court date, the discharge process can take hours.
The jail’s relative isolation is a “geographic reality” of being in Hastings, Harder said, though it isn’t alone.
Release from the Washington County jail in Stillwater poses some of the same problems as Dakota County, said Roger Heinen, jail commander. There’s a bus schedule — with limited routes and times — in the lobby and free phone calls.
“Besides that, there’s not much more we can do,” he said.
But other suburban counties said they have transportation under control. Most of the 250 inmates leaving the Carver County jail in Chaska each month get rides from family or friends, and the social services department gives out bus tokens, said Reed Ashpole, jail administrator.
Anoka County’s jail has an advantage over Hastings because Anoka is more centrally located, said Dave Pacholl, jail commander. “We’re lucky in that we have a number of transit options,” he said.
Dakota County officials know there’s a lack of east-west transit options in the county, said Commissioner Mike Slavik. The County Board approved the results of a study exploring possible transit corridors May 9. Hwy. 55 didn’t make the top five list, Slavik said, but county staff are working on other options.
One possibility is to get the jail on the schedule for Transit Link, the Metropolitan Council’s dial-a-ride service, Slavik said.
‘I have the whole day’
Jessica Genung grew up in Hastings and works at the nearby Wal-Mart. She said people fresh out of jail sometimes approach the customer service desk to ask about a ride. “It would be cool if they had transit buses that would bring them where they needed to be,” Genung said.
Doege, who runs the Amicus Reconnect program, said that even a few dollars in bus fare is a stretch for some because they haven’t worked recently.
If they are estranged from family or don’t have a support system, getting a ride may be difficult, he said. And they face other challenges in surviving outside jail, part of why some end up incarcerated again.
“They deserve a second chance,” Doege said. “Every time we put up a barrier, no matter how seemingly insignificant … the likelihood that they’re going to be successful is less.”
Leslie, the county sheriff, said state law requires him to deliver inmates to and from jail.
However, nothing requires the county to transport people back to where they came from once they’re freed. He said it would help to have a shuttle to the Apple Valley Transit Station.
A photographer said he’d give Agboola a lift to the bus station if he could stick around for awhile.
“Honestly, I can wait,” he said. “I have the whole day.”