Martin Co. to recruit transport officers

FAIRMONT – Housing juvenile and mentally ill inmates requires a lot of road time for Martin County.

Martin County Sheriff Jeff Markquart and Chief Deputy Corey Klanderud requested approval to recruit more transport officers Tuesday. While the request was unanimously approved, it also brought up the question of why juveniles and the mentally ill need to be housed as far away as Willmar, Brainerd and Duluth.

“Why?” asked commissioner Steve Pierce. “They spend five hours driving somebody down here for a court appearance that lasts five minutes, and then they’re back on the road.”

Markquart and Klanderud agreed with Pierce, but pointed out that defense attorneys have opposed the possible solution of interactive TV.

“We thought ITV was going to take off and it failed. The defense attorneys have fought against it for legal reasons,” Klanderud said, adding that usually judges and defense attorneys want the defendant in the courtroom.

One of the reasons for the long road trips is lack of bed space for juveniles and the mentally ill. Currently, Martin County’s juvenile offenders are held in a facility in Willmar, and those who are mentally ill are housed wherever qualified bed space can be found. Recently, Martin County has housed mentally ill inmates as far away as Brainerd and Duluth due to the lack of bed space.

“We used to be able to house our juveniles at Elmore Academy, but we stopped doing that a few years ago,” Klanderud said. “Now they’re shutting down within 30 days, so it looks like this is going to continue.”

Klanderud was referring to the recent announcement that Elmore Academy will soon be closing its doors.

In other business, the Martin County Commissioners:

o Approved an updated version of the joint powers agreement for the Southwest Minnesota/Northwest Iowa Emergency Response Unit. Some members of the Martin County Sheriff’s Office and the Fairmont Police Department, along with several other law enforcement agencies in the region, also serve as members in the unit. This joint powers agreement between the agencies is to provide police assistance to government units in circumstances such as a major disaster where keeping the public peace is necessary, or a crime in progress or criminals in flight, where the assistance of police forces from other areas would be helpful in apprehending the criminals.

o Received an update from June Sorensen, community nutrition educator for University of Minnesota Extension in Martin County. She reported to the commissioners that the U of M was going to a regional model for its educators, which resulted in her layoff that takes effect next week.

“With no farm bill passed, we’ve been floating, and they announced we were being cut,” she said. “There will be educators in various counties, and we’re not even sure which counties will have them.”