Isanti County Jail passes inspection with flying colors

The Isanti County Board heard a presentation at its June 3 meeting from Isanti County Sheriff Chris Caulk and Jail Administrator Dennis Valentyn regarding the recent jail inspection. 

“This is an opportunity to showcase the good work that is being done by Dennis and his staff in the jail,” Caulk said. 

Valentyn explained there is a new inspector this year who came in April for the inspection. There are 126 areas in the mandatory category, and Isanti County Jail was in total compliance in 124 areas, non-compliant in one, and compliant with concerns in one. In the essential category, there are 98 areas, with Isanti County Jail being compliant in 96, non-compliant in one, and compliant with concerns in one.

The area it was non-compliant in the mandatory category was not completing an annual emergency evacuation drill. Although required annually, Valentyn told the board the jail would begin doing them quarterly.

The area of non-compliance for essential is inmate activities and programs. Valentyn noted the jail is cited for this every year an inspection takes place due to the limited space for recreation at the jail. Without a renovation, the jail cannot come into compliance with this area, which is noted in the report.

The mandatory area in which the jail was in compliance, but with concerns, was having a staffing plan and analysis. Valentyn told the board a staffing plan and analysis were completed the week after the inspection.

The essential area in which the jail was in compliance, but with concerns, was fire inspection. This had to do with fire extinguishers being inspected, but not being initialed by the staff who inspected them.

“That doesn’t seem too bad for all the stuff you do over there,” said Commissioner Terry Turnquist. 

“It’s the staff that keep this going, because they make sure we are getting the stuff done that we are supposed to be,” Valentyn said. 

“This is remarkable,” Commissioner Susan Morris said. “I used to waitress years ago, and you get the health inspector come in, and they love to rake you over the coals for any little thing, so to have a complex as huge as you have with all of the stuff that you do, this is remarkable. Congratulations.”

Morris also asked about how things have changed at the jail with COVID-19. Valentyn explained staff is screened when they come to work, and new inmates are screened before entering the jail. Once an inmate is booked, they are isolated for seven to 14 days before joining the rest of the inmate population.

He also noted limited visiting has opened back up at the jail, allowing additional time per visit.

“I have a Thursday meeting with the Commissioner of Corrections and some of the ideas that Isanti County has come up with have actually been ideas that the State of Minnesota is going to take on,” Caulk noted, crediting Valentyn and the other jail staff for having good ideas. “They were very impressed with Dennis’ idea on how to do visiting, scheduling, people who come in. The prisons are probably going to look at that, along with app ‘No Wait Inside.’ I think the DOC is probably looking at that, too. So, hats off to the county when you look at our mission and vision of efficiencies. Even in Covid, the state is watching us.” 

Due to the protests and riots in the Twin Cities, Morris asked if Caulk was concerned any of that would spill into this area. She also noted some local deputies had gone to the cities to help.

“They have an amazing amount of intelligence folks that are working on this stuff at that level, and they’re trying to filter between what’s true on social media and what’s not,” Caulk said, adding that there have been no credible threats to this area. 

He noted that those who want to protest peacefully in this area will be given space to do so. The concerns are people who put 20 propane tanks in a car and are out there to do bad things. He added that people should be open to change to make things better. 

Morris added that she is very comfortable with staffing levels at the sheriff’s department, and she feels safe in the community. 

After noting that deputies would again be going to help in the cities, Caulk said, “We all want to make this the best world that we can, we are just one cog in the wheel.”

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