Carlton County's new lease on justice

Tour reveals transformational new facility

 

May 3, 2024

Brady Slater

A raised command center in the male portion of the new jail will allow one corrections officer to observe 40 inmates at a time.

First, the bad news. The delayed arrival of a 700-pound, almost $60,000 electrical switch will delay the opening of Carlton County's new Justice Center by a few months. Instead of a July opening, the new 117,000-square-foot facility along County Road 61 in Carlton is now expected to open in October.

"It was involved in a fire on its transport," Carlton County Jail administrator Paul Coughlin said of the switch. "It's heavily damaged. They had to reject it and build a new one that takes 26 weeks to build."

County officials learned about the switch catastrophe in early April. Officially an "automatic transfer switch," it allows for the facility's generator to take up power in the event of an electrical emergency. Operating a courthouse, jail, or sheriff's office - all ensconced in the new Justice Center - would not be allowed without the switch.

The good news? The $75 million project is otherwise on-time, on-budget and on its way to bringing transformational change to the way the county conducts business related to crime and courts.

"We know that this is the biggest investment Carlton County taxpayers will have in many, many years and have had up until today," Sheriff Kelly Lake said. "We want to make sure they know there was a lot of thought put into this. We tried to save taxpayer dollars where we could, but still make a very functional and efficient building for many many years to come."

The facility was 84 percent completed last month when the Pine Knot met Coughlin and Sheriff Lake for what amounted to a two-hour tour. The walls and systems of the building were intact but the building was operating on temporary power as roughly 60 workers milled about the facility accomplishing the punchlist of items that remained, including painting and trim. Most of the carpeting was in and most of the doors hung. Inside the three courtrooms, judges' benches and jury boxes were being assembled, having been constructed from scratch in rich mahogany and other woods by St. Germain's Cabinet in Duluth. The 98-inch televisions upon which evidence will be displayed had yet to be hung.

"This building will truly allow the courts to present evidence to jurors in a way that is consistent with the needs and demands of the current state of technology," Judge Rebekka Stumme told the newspaper in a statement.

Stumme and Judge Amy Lukasavitz will each have private chambers next to their own courtrooms.

A third courtroom will be used for misdemeanor and civil trials and features only a seven-person jury box, compared to 14 in the main courtrooms.

"The new facility is beautiful and will provide us the necessary space to do the crucial business of the people," Lukasavitz said in a statement. "We will have more flexibility with three courtrooms and will be able to potentially have two jury trials happening simultaneously. Our third courtroom is a flexible courtroom where we can conduct treatment court hearings, [child protection] hearings, and adoptions in addition to our traditional calendars."

During the tour, acoustics in the courtrooms noticeably changed and intensified. There were no more echoes. Ambient noise was muted, putting all the focus on the person who was speaking.

Outside of the courtrooms, there's a jury assembly room that features space for 60 prospective jurors. The carpet in the public-facing courthouse hallway is covered in plastic while construction lingers. At one end of the hall is the County Attorney's Office, at the other the public defenders. The new front desk where members of the public will interact with court administration features lower countertops designed for people with disabilities.

"We can't wait to get into the new space," Lukasavitz said.

It's a far cry from the old surroundings. The soon-to-be named Carlton County Historic Courthouse in downtown Carlton, while lovely and a testament to its time, was so out of date that the state courts and corrections department were both pushing Carlton County into new directions.

"When presenting evidence in the current courthouse, the acoustics are horrible; it's very difficult to hear if you're toward the back of the courtroom," Lake said. "This was designed with that in mind."

Coughlin agreed.

"Courtrooms are one of most expensive things to build and that's because of the regal nature of what the court is," Coughlin said, while noting the stone accents behind the jury boxes. "You're affecting people's lives. There's a lot of time and resources put into it."

In walking through the different areas of the Justice Center, one thing became abundantly clear. Over and over again, Coughlin and Lake talked about new efficiencies that will make county staff members' lives easier and users' experiences better.

A tour that started in a giant garage - where Sheriff's Office's boats, snowmobiles, trailers and extra squad vehicles will be housed - ended in the probation department, where, for the first time in years, probation officers won't need to visit sentenced clientele in their offices. Rather, there's a secure space apart from the private offices. It'll protect confidential information from being exposed and the officers themselves, in the event an unruly probation violator objects to a return to jail.

"There's a lot more staff safety and security in this building than we've ever dreamed of," Coughlin said.

"And confidentiality, too," Lake added, noting a separate restroom for conducting urinalysis. That's something new for the county.

In 2015, Coughlin and Lake attended a National Institute of Corrections seminar in Denver, Colorado on planning a new institution. In the ensuing eight years, the county has at times had difficulty articulating why it needed a new facility. At least it had a difficult time in getting the general public to listen.

But last month's tour illustrated the differences between old and new. One stark detail after the other, it became apparent why county leadership steered the county toward the most expensive facility in its history.

"Everybody has their place and they don't cross," Lake said, regarding court operations.

Currently, defendants, their families, victims' families and the general public could all ride an elevator together and converge outside of a courtroom.

"Everybody kind of gets thrown together in one hallway," Lake said. "Public, victims, witnesses, defendants, staff, everybody goes up the same elevator. It's a recipe for disaster, quite frankly."

At risk are mistrials, physical altercations and general mayhem.

"Our staff has worked really hard to keep that separate, but the way it is right now it's very hard to do that," Coughlin said.

While court logistics are one of the most obvious detriments, they are hardly the only thing being corrected by the new facility.

The sallyport where suspects are brought to jail currently can fit one squad vehicle, and the door needs to remain open to fit ambulances. The sallyport on the backside of the new facility will be able to hold four squads. Instead of pulling in and backing out, the vehicles will be able to drive through.

"A [driving while intoxicated arrest] takes time and if you have a second one they sit in the parking lot, wasting valuable time and taking away from public safety," Lake said. "They should be out patrolling the streets."

Inside the new center, there are connector hallways that circulate through the jail and remainder of the facility in a thoughtful manner. The current jail is laid out in an "H" pattern. Delivering meals or medications requires jailors to walk and then backtrack. But not anymore. Coughlin described the layout as "everything built where there is a connector."

"You walk and circulate through," he said.

There's a 7-foot wide corridor through the heart of the facility that can fit gurneys in the event of a medical emergency. The courtrooms feature private offices both inside and outside the courtrooms for attorneys to meet with clients, families and other attorneys. The Sheriff's Office deputies are assembled in a room that connects with investigators and features a meeting space between them.

"We tried to make connections, so it's efficient to work together," Lake said.

In the current jail, a set of keys is required to make one's way around the jail.

"That will not be the case here," Coughlin said. "You come here, a control center will open doors for you. You have to ask and they'll let you in and out of areas.

In the old jail, if a person tried to flood their cell, jail staff would shut down water to the facility, punishing everyone. The new facility features controls to individual rooms.

"Staff will have the ability to do everything they need to do without having to think about it or having to come up with a creative solution," Coughlin said.

The old jail features 48 beds and the new one has 96 total beds. Sixteen of those are for the Justice Involved Females program. That program isn't expected to open until January 2025. Marked in the new facility by purple doors and window frames, the Justice Involved Females program will be for women from throughout the region who have already been sentenced. Because of the region-wide need for women's programming, the state provided $12 million in funding to help with the new jail. The county is working to develop the programming for the incarcerated women and also to gain further state support for operation of the facility, which will require additional county or contracted leadership, since Coughlin will have his hands full and be solely dedicated to the jail portion of the new facility.

Unlike the current jail, which doesn't have dedicated holding cells for new intakes, the new jail features seven holding cells, including a padded room for behavioral cases, around a booking area that's raised on a concrete platform to protect staff from unruly people being booked into jail. A prebooking facility will also allow officers to conduct Breathalyzer tests, which are now forced to be conducted inside the jail.

It's important to keep unruly folks segregated from the jail population, Coughlin explained, saying you don't want someone intoxicated or high next to jailed folks working on sobriety, or loud and obnoxious folks disrupting the general population of the jail.

"If you see 30 people in jail now, it's not like the 30 people it was in 1995," Coughlin said. "It's 30 people significantly being influenced by something in their life (drugs, mental health). Having space and being able to separate individuals is beneficial to us."

By decree of the Department of Corrections, there are skylights and windows high on the walls throughout the facility, bringing natural light into the day to day.

Cameras throughout the halls and facility will be monitored in an operations center that will be the hub of the jail. And command centers in the different wings will allow one person to monitor up to 40 different inmates at a time. Cells are modular blocks stacked on each other, and built from steel and thick pane glass - no bars. When celled and not in communal areas, inmates won't be able to see each other as the facility is tailored for sight/sound separation.

Jail staff has been approved by the county board to increase from 21 to 24 to accommodate for demands of the larger facility. Training for employees will take place in August and September. No vacations are being approved for that time of year because in addition to mass training there will still be the old jail to run.

"Even though we've got correction officers who've been here for 20 years, this is a completely different facility operationally than what they're used to working with," Coughlin said.

The new dispatch center features raised floors under which all of the data cables will run, coming up from the floor instead of down from the ceiling.

"All of these things are just massive improvements operationally," Coughlin said.

Inside the Sheriff's Office there's a giant hooded vacuum for processing fingerprints and contaminated evidence. It's happened in the state that peace officers have overdosed while processing deadly drugs such as fentanyl.

"This is a major safety component," Coughlin said. "So deputies can turn the fan on if there is an exposure event and it doesn't come back to them. It gets sucked up and sent to an area that's safe."

In the event of a "trial of the century"-type event, the courtrooms can fit up to 50 visitors. Overflow visitors would be able to use the jury assembly room to view the trail. Defendants who are jailed would rise in an elevator that's caged inside to secure the scene until the person is guided to their seat in front of the judge's bench.

"We have two deliberation rooms," Coughlin said. "Technically, you could have two jury trials going at the same time."

Lake said she's in no hurry to accommodate a trial of the century. Instead, she's content with the efficiencies that will allow the county's cops and courts to run smoothly.

"We're making so many concessions now, you have no idea," she said. "It's a lot of extra stress on staff as well as inmates. We're all excited to have access to the new place."

A third courtroom will be used for misdemeanor and civil trials and features only a seven-person jury box, compared to 14 in the main courtrooms.

"The new facility is beautiful and will provide us the necessary space to do the crucial business of the people," Lukasavitz said in a statement. "We will have more flexibility with three courtrooms and will be able to potentially have two jury trials happening simultaneously. Our third courtroom is a flexible courtroom where we can conduct treatment court hearings, [child protection] hearings, and adoptions in addition to our traditional calendars."

During the tour, acoustics in the courtrooms noticeably changed and intensified. There were no more echoes. Ambient noise was muted, putting all the focus on the person who was speaking.

Outside of the courtrooms, there's a jury assembly room that features space for 60 prospective jurors. The carpet in the public-facing courthouse hallway is covered in plastic while construction lingers. At one end of the hall is the County Attorney's Office, at the other the public defenders. The new front desk where members of the public will interact with court administration features lower countertops designed for people with disabilities.

"We can't wait to get into the new space," Lukasavitz said.

It's a far cry from the old surroundings. The soon-to-be named Carlton County Historic Courthouse in downtown Carlton, while lovely and a testament to its time, was so out of date that the state courts and corrections department were both pushing Carlton County into new directions.

"When presenting evidence in the current courthouse, the acoustics are horrible; it's very difficult to hear if you're toward the back of the courtroom," Lake said. "This was designed with that in mind."

Coughlin agreed.

"Courtrooms are one of most expensive things to build and that's because of the regal nature of what the court is," Coughlin said, while noting the stone accents behind the jury boxes. "You're affecting people's lives. There's a lot of time and resources put into it."

More efficient

In walking through the different areas of the Justice Center, one thing became abundantly clear. Over and over again, Coughlin and Lake talked about new efficiencies that will make county staff members' lives easier and users' experiences better.

A tour that started in a giant garage - where Sheriff's Office's boats, snowmobiles, trailers and extra squad vehicles will be housed - ended in the probation department, where, for the first time in years, probation officers won't need to visit sentenced clientele in their offices. Rather, there's a secure space apart from the private offices. It'll protect confidential information from being exposed and the officers themselves, in the event an unruly probation violator objects to a return to jail.

"There's a lot more staff safety and security in this building than we've ever dreamed of," Coughlin said.

"And confidentiality, too," Lake added, noting a separate restroom for conducting urinalysis. That's something new for the county.

In 2015, Coughlin and Lake attended a National Institute of Corrections seminar in Denver, Colorado on planning a new institution. In the ensuing eight years, the county has at times had difficulty articulating why it needed a new facility. At least it had a difficult time in getting the general public to listen.

But last month's tour illustrated the differences between old and new. One stark detail after the other, it became apparent why county leadership steered the county toward the most expensive facility in its history.

"Everybody has their place and they don't cross," Lake said, regarding court operations.

Currently, defendants, their families, victims' families and the general public could all ride an elevator together and converge outside of a courtroom.

"Everybody kind of gets thrown together in one hallway," Lake said. "Public, victims, witnesses, defendants, staff, everybody goes up the same elevator. It's a recipe for disaster, quite frankly."

At risk are mistrials, physical altercations and general mayhem.

"Our staff has worked really hard to keep that separate, but the way it is right now it's very hard to do that," Coughlin said.

While court logistics are one of the most obvious detriments, they are hardly the only thing being corrected by the new facility.

The sallyport where suspects are brought to jail currently can fit one squad vehicle, and the door needs to remain open to fit ambulances. The sallyport on the backside of the new facility will be able to hold four squads. Instead of pulling in and backing out, the vehicles will be able to drive through.

"A [driving while intoxicated arrest] takes time and if you have a second one they sit in the parking lot, wasting valuable time and taking away from public safety," Lake said. "They should be out patrolling the streets."

Inside the new center, there are connector hallways that circulate through the jail and remainder of the facility in a thoughtful manner. The current jail is laid out in an "H" pattern. Delivering meals or medications requires jailors to walk and then backtrack. But not anymore. Coughlin described the layout as "everything built where there is a connector."

"You walk and circulate through," he said.

There's a 7-foot wide corridor through the heart of the facility that can fit gurneys in the event of a medical emergency. The courtrooms feature private offices both inside and outside the courtrooms for attorneys to meet with clients, families and other attorneys. The Sheriff's Office deputies are assembled in a room that connects with investigators and features a meeting space between them.

"We tried to make connections, so it's efficient to work together," Lake said.

In the current jail, a set of keys is required to make one's way around the jail.

"That will not be the case here," Coughlin said. "You come here, a control center will open doors for you. You have to ask and they'll let you in and out of areas.

In the old jail, if a person tried to flood their cell, jail staff would shut down water to the facility, punishing everyone. The new facility features controls to individual rooms.

"Staff will have the ability to do everything they need to do without having to think about it or having to come up with a creative solution," Coughlin said.

The old jail features 48 beds and the new one has 96 total beds. Sixteen of those are for the Justice Involved Females program. That program isn't expected to open until January 2025. Marked in the new facility by purple doors and window frames, the Justice Involved Females program will be for women from throughout the region who have already been sentenced. Because of the region-wide need for women's programming, the state provided $12 million in funding to help with the new jail. The county is working to develop the programming for the incarcerated women and also to gain further state support for operation of the facility, which will require additional county or contracted leadership, since Coughlin will have his hands full and be solely dedicated to the jail portion of the new facility.

Safer for all

Unlike the current jail, which doesn't have dedicated holding cells for new intakes, the new jail features seven holding cells, including a padded room for behavioral cases, around a booking area that's raised on a concrete platform to protect staff from unruly people being booked into jail. A prebooking facility will also allow officers to conduct Breathalyzer tests, which are now forced to be conducted inside the jail.

It's important to keep unruly folks segregated from the jail population, Coughlin explained, saying you don't want someone intoxicated or high next to jailed folks working on sobriety, or loud and obnoxious folks disrupting the general population of the jail.

"If you see 30 people in jail now, it's not like the 30 people it was in 1995," Coughlin said. "It's 30 people significantly being influenced by something in their life (drugs, mental health). Having space and being able to separate individuals is beneficial to us."

By decree of the Department of Corrections, there are skylights and windows high on the walls throughout the facility, bringing natural light into the day to day.

Cameras throughout the halls and facility will be monitored in an operations center that will be the hub of the jail. And command centers in the different wings will allow one person to monitor up to 40 different inmates at a time. Cells are modular blocks stacked on each other, and built from steel and thick pane glass - no bars. When celled and not in communal areas, inmates won't be able to see each other as the facility is tailored for sight/sound separation.

Jail staff has been approved by the county board to increase from 21 to 24 to accommodate for demands of the larger facility. Training for employees will take place in August and September. No vacations are being approved for that time of year because in addition to mass training there will still be the old jail to run.

"Even though we've got correction officers who've been here for 20 years, this is a completely different facility operationally than what they're used to working with," Coughlin said.

The new dispatch center features raised floors under which all of the data cables will run, coming up from the floor instead of down from the ceiling.

"All of these things are just massive improvements operationally," Coughlin said.

Inside the Sheriff's Office there's a giant hooded vacuum for processing fingerprints and contaminated evidence. It's happened in the state that peace officers have overdosed while processing deadly drugs such as fentanyl.

Carlton County's new Justice Center was 80 percent complete last month and is expected to open in October. It is far more thoughtful, safe and efficient for modern day demands than the current facilities. Photo courtesy of Carlton County

"This is a major safety component," Coughlin said. "So deputies can turn the fan on if there is an exposure event and it doesn't come back to them. It gets sucked up and sent to an area that's safe."

In the event of a "trial of the century"-type event, the courtrooms can fit up to 50 visitors. Overflow visitors would be able to use the jury assembly room to view the trail. Defendants who are jailed would rise in an elevator that's caged inside to secure the scene until the person is guided to their seat in front of the judge's bench.

"We have two deliberation rooms," Coughlin said. "Technically, you could have two jury trials going at the same time."

Lake said she's in no hurry to accommodate a trial of the century. Instead, she's content with the efficiencies that will allow the county's cops and courts to run smoothly.

"We're making so many concessions now, you have no idea," she said. "It's a lot of extra stress on staff as well as inmates. We're all excited to have access to the new place."

 
 

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