The Lake Region Law Enforcement (LEC) board met Wednesday morning to discuss several pressing issues.
By Shinoah Young
DL Journal Reporter
The Lake Region Law Enforcement (LEC) board met Wednesday morning to discuss several pressing issues such as hiring a juvenile director, staff development, training and hiring, and the 24/7 SCRAM sobriety program.
“It’s been said that being a corrections officer is probably the toughest job in town,” said LEC board president Bill Mertens. “You’re just about as much an inmate as they are when you’re back there working.”
Denny Deegan, LEC operations manager, informed the group that three employees are presently attending training at the CO School in Bismarck, that is, a corrections officers academy, to be able to care for juveniles.
Two of these employees will continue their training throughout the entire three weeks, but the LEC captain will return after two, because Deegan said, he has more than 25 years prior experience as a highway patrolman.
“I think when our employees get trained they will feel a lot better about the issues that we face back there,” said Mertens.
Deegan said the employees will be officially certified on July 25.
“I had to squeeze to get them in. They only had two spots available and at the last minute they said they had one more opening and I said, ‘I’ll take it.’”
Deegan also requested another four officers be sent for training in October. Then another four in January 2015. “Essentially when those officers are back they’ll be fine to work with juveniles.”
Deegan said she hopes the training will go as planned. If so, 11 of the 15 jail staff at the LEC will be trained and certified to monitor non-adjudicated juvenile detainees.
This means that local, pre-trial juveniles, who are held in the LEC for less than 96 hours at a time will be monitored by state certified employees.
Deegan said the three week training will help corrections officers to learn about the law regarding inmates’ rights (in depth), defensive tactics, pepper spray, tazer training, PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act) standards, medication dispensing certification, CPR/First Aid and more.
Eventually, the LEC is aiming to become PREA standard compliant.
“It’s a huge thing,” said Mertens, of the modern era in corrections. “Only three institutions in the United States are PREA compliant at this stage in the game.”
At an earlier meeting this past Spring, Steve Engen, director of staff development and facility inspection for the ND Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in Bismarck, explained how serious becoming PREA compliant is.
Engen reassured the LEC there are 88 PREA standards and each standard has four to five requirement questions that need to be met by the federal audit in 2016.
Mertens added that he thinks by about mid-August, PREA compliance standards will begin to take effect – for the better. “Sometime before now and the end of the year we have to conform to those PREA standards.”
“They just became overworked,” said Mertens, on their jail staff’s recent struggles with having more duties and less employees. He said hiring is a process.
Another issue brought to the floor was the Lake Region 24/7 sobriety program, which involves a defendant who chooses to wear a SCRAM bracelet that monitors alcohol consumption through the skin twenty four hours a day, instead of being incarcerated.
“The SCRAM program is overtaxing,” said supervisor Rob Johnson.
The bracelets cost $5 per day per person and a one time $50 connection fee is required. Johnson made the point that typically, each offender is hooked up on the SCRAM bracelet for about one year.
“Right now I’ve got 29 people on it and that number continues to grow,” he said. “More staff definitely would help.”
“I think it’s a beneficial program, based on the fact that it does keep people sober and held accountable with this bracelet on them.”
Johnson said SCRAM helps people who are on probation and residents at the re-entry center become accountable through sobriety. As for pre-trial release defendants, he said “It gets people out of jail so the courts know they are sober [before and after court].”
“I think the LEC board understands there’s an issue,” said Johnson, who does procedural SCRAM monitor check-ups several times per day with different defendants. “It’s just a matter of time … before there’s no extra money tied into SCRAM to be able to pay for the extra staff to operate it.”
Mertens said the LEC board has taken on a lot of responsibility and serving the surrounding counties has been a challenge. The LEC is responsible to serve Eddy, Benson, Towner, and Nelson Counties.
“I think we’ve made some headway as far as our morale issues,” he implied.
Since the LEC board decided to increase employee wages two months prior – some wages were increased by up to 30 per cent– however, they have since decided to partially rescind employee’s wages. This created outcry from several LEC staff who planned a budget according to their raises, then were told this pay raise was no longer effective.
“When we learned the consequences of that, we retracted part of it but kept corrections’ [officers] wages the way they were.”
When asked, the Journal was denied the LEC board’s meeting minutes or a quote on the recent sexual assault case that occurred last week when a male jail attendant coerced intimate contact with a female inmate in her jail cell.
A meeting will be held Friday at 9 a.m. at the third floor Ramsey County Courthouse Law Library, for a general discussion on defendant extradition and tribal jurisdiction.
Judge Donovan Foughty, Spirit Lake chairman Leander “Russ” McDonald, tribal Judge William D. Cavanaugh and several LEC officials from the region will be in attendance.
Furthermore, the Journal spoke with chairman McDonald about juveniles Wednesday, after the LEC meeting.
He sternly addressed “I don’t think that it matters if you’re native or non-native … you want to help [juveniles] with an intervention at a younger age so they don’t stay in those systems for the rest of their lives.”
“We need to help them make good choices to help them be productive citizens.”
Currently, he said tribal juveniles are being transported to detention centers in Iowa and South Dakota where their support networks are non-existent.
“I think there’s some supportive services we would like to see [here],” said the chairman. Supports like access to education, addiction counseling, family counseling and culture, would help the youth overcome these tough situations, he stated.
“We’ve had good participation so far in our tribal social services meetings,” said McDonald, who meets with a special board that addresses their tribal juveniles’ care on a regular basis.
“Our hope is that working together will result in a juvenile facility for our area.”
McDonald said the detention center in Spirit Lake Nation is now under construction but, he assured, “Once that is completed, it will open up as a full time jail.”