What the Crow Wing County Jail Needs in Order to Reduce Crime

 

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As we followed U.S. Congressional candidate Jen Schultz during a day of connecting with people in Brainerd, one of her stops was the Crow Wing County Jail, which holds 276 people. We spent several hours there talking to law enforcement officers and social workers, including a group of women staff who shared their perspectives on what the community needs for increased public safety.

One area of concern, they said, is that most of the people in the jail have both mental health issues and chemical dependency. It is easier to get them into drug treatment programs — which they consider more helpful than jail — but people might go one or two dozen times to the same program because they aren’t getting to the root of their mental health issues.

Said one staff member at the jail, “I have had clients tell me, ‘You can send me to chemical dependency treatment all you want, and they’re going to teach me how to identify my triggers and some coping skills, but the reasons I’m using are not being addressed.’”

Another said that many of the programs for addiction in Minnesota have a religious base to them, which isn’t for everybody.

There are people in the community, regularly booked into the jail, who could benefit from health-related services. Said one staff member, “Some of them are nearly blind and need glasses, but cannot afford it.”

We talked extensively with Kristy Tetzlaff, a correctional officer who has worked at the jail for 20 years, despite major challenges with the job. “It’s hard to hire people who want to work here,” she says. “They can get paid better elsewhere.”

Why have you stayed in this job for so long?

Corrections officer Kristy Tetzlaff (photo by Sarah Whiting)

 

Because I love the fact that I can actually help people. I can take the time and talk to people. You see them at their worst, then you see them a day or two later, [and it] is a totally different person who is apologizing for what has happened and what they did. I don’t take that personally. I know the person who came in was not who they are.

It’s not that I haven’t gone home and cried. We all have our times that someone pushes too far, but I’ve never taken it personally and thought, “Next time I see him, I’m going to make sure his life is going to suck.” I talk to them about our IMPACT Program [a 15- week curriculum with coaching] and other educational options we have in the jail. For me, it is because I think that there’s always hope. Though some days, it is harder to see the hope.

Describe the types of health crises you deal with at the jail.

Sometimes people held at the jail are in a full-blown mental health crisis or a drug psychosis. One day we were in the holding cells for a full day because people were flooding their cells, clogging up the toilet and flushing. Other times people have to be removed from their cell because they have urinated or defecated on the floor and we need to clean up.

What are the needs in Brainerd that are not getting met from your law enforcement perspective?

Sometimes it takes months for someone with mental health issues to leave, because they have been committed. You might think that means they are going to a hospital — but they have to be held here until space opens up, which could take up to six months.

Some people here are doing great after completing a program, but then are kicked to the street. Every winter a guy would call to say he was about to burglarize a place. We’d bring him in. He said it was better than being homeless in the winter. It didn’t matter to him how many charges were piling up. [Eventually,] he ended up going to prison, instead of our jail. But the crime truly was related to being homeless.

 

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