Mille Lacs County hears initial jail study findings
The Mille Lacs County jail study is underway, and representatives from the Justice Planners were in town to give an update on their findings. Alan Richardson and Patrick Jablonski flew in from warmer states for two days of meeting with county officials and stakeholders.
The report is just the beginning of the study, but it included preliminary numbers based on research the statistician was able to pull from reports provided by the jail and Department of Corrections (DOC).
Richardson is the founder and president of Justice Planners, a company based in South Carolina. He said the focus of the firm’s work boils down to two questions: who comes to the jail, and how long they stay. By addressing those questions, and the ancillary information surrounding them, the Justice Planners offer a 25-year projection of what the jail population will look like. They are not a firm of architects or engineers, Richardson said.
Jablonski is a statistician for the firm, and gave an overview of his initial findings. He explained that the numbers are subject to change as he comes to understand better how the raw data actually comes to life in the operations of the jail – some pieces of the data were more “conversational” at this point. The presentation featured numbers and graphs of the jail’s average daily population, the number of bookings, average length of stay as well as a population profile. Some data reached as far back as 2009, while others zoomed in on a shorter time period.
One way the Mille Lacs County jail differs from the usual client for Justice Planners, Jablonski noted, is that the jail is working with a surplus of beds rather than a shortage, like many jails the Justice Planners work with. And while the planners “don’t have a crystal ball” to predict the entirety of the next 25 years, the data they compile will give them a realistic view of what could likely happen.
Previously, Jail Administrator Bradley Hunt told the board the Justice Planners will help distinguish between four options for the jail’s future: first, that nothing changes; second, that the county starts from scratch on its jail facilities; third, the county invests in renovation; or fourth, all inmates are housed outside the county at other jail facilities. Jablonski during the presentation stated the firm has never recommended the closure of a jail, as they have not come across a situation where it would be the cost-effective solution to do so.
From the Minnesota State Demographic Office, Jablonski ascertained that the population of Mille Lacs County is projected to be 7.8% smaller in 2048 than 2023. Based on that estimation, and knowing that 69% of the jail population right now is males between the ages of 18 and 49, it would be expected that the jail population would decrease by 8.8% by 2048.
But not so fast, Jablonski said. There’s more to consider. A wrench in the seemingly straight-forward estimate is that reported violent crimes are trending upward through 2021, while property crime is down. Interesting to note, as well, that the jail population has not “rebounded” since pre-pandemic. Coming out of the pandemic, trends started to slightly increase, but then something brought them down again. Jablonski hopes to find a reason for this over the next few months.
Another piece of the puzzle Jablonski shared is the number of bookings and the arrestees’ length of stays. Jablonski was careful to note that bookings don’t necessarily drive the population. A related question he expressed was who used to come to jail, and who could come back? In 2016, the probation process in the county changed, and they began to contract with the DOC. This policy shift affected bookings – if it changed again, so too could jail numbers.
The length of stays affects the population numbers, as well. The average length of stays differs between males and females, as well as between races. In 2022, 61% of bookings were of white individuals. That same year, 32% of the bookings were of Indigenous Americans – yet, Indigenous Americans had a greater length of stay versus white arrestees. Jablonski said this is “true everywhere” and has to do with being able to meet bail.
The final findings are expected to be presented in June or July.
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