State to end full-time jail monitoring

Full-time compliance monitoring at the Ward County Jail will end Monday, the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced Friday.

The monitor has cost the county $232,206 from January 2015 through July 3, 2017. The state placed Robert Werlinger as monitor following an investigation into the October 2014 death of Dustin Irwin, who died in Bismarck after being transferred from Ward County Jail. The investigation revealed a pattern of jail compliance violations.

“The Ward County Jail has made significant progress since the Non-Compliance Order issued on December 18, 2014,” the DOCR announcement stated. “Facility leadership and staff have embraced these changes, and currently facility operations are in compliance with the Non-Compliance Order, North Dakota Correctional Facility Standards and North Dakota Century Code. Over the past 32 months, the operational culture of the facility has improved substantially as well. Staff now are properly trained, supervised and accountable for all direct services within the facility. Staff now provide humane, professional correctional services to those incarcerated.

“Facility leadership has developed substantially as well. Value has been placed on ensuring all essential services are provided to those incarcerated. Facility leadership is now very involved in the day-to-day operation of the facility, resulting in a much needed culture change. Inmate grievances are down, staff retention has improved and operational responses within the facility have dramatically improved. These positive changes have resulted in increased safety for those incarcerated, staff and society,” the department continued. “The ND DOCR commends the Ward County jail personnel for their efforts to ensure the operation of a safe, secure and humane facility.”

To ensure continued compliance, department staff will complete on-site monitoring of the facility twice per month, based on predetermined compliance measures.

“Overall, the jail is running a lot more efficiently and smoothly,” Ward County Sheriff Bob Barnard said. “We look forward to continuing this level of compliance.”

Among specific improvements, the jail revised its policies and improved medical services to address violations found in its care delivery. Nurse practitioners now provide medical care five days a week and mental health services two days week.

Previously cited for failure to train staff, the Ward County Jail now has developed an in-house program for training its correctional officers. That program is expanding to offer training to other agencies, including employees of DOCR.

Previously cited for over-crowding, the jail had 99 inmates Friday, just below the 103 that it considers its maximum. A count of inmates held for Ward County in other facilities was at 17 recently.

In addition, inmate complaints are down and staff retention is up, Barnard said.

The DOCR decision comes following a day-long inspection of the jail by the department last week.

“We have been waiting for this quite a while,” Ward County Commissioner Alan Walter said of the decision. “We are glad it’s over. It was costing us quite a bit of money.”

He commended Barnard for his work on the jail compliance. Commissioner Jim Rostad echoed that support.

“Sheriff Barnard is just really tried very hard to be in compliance with all of the expectations and demands, and I am glad to see that the restrictions and monitoring, hopefully, will be lessened considerably,” Rostad said.

The incidents that led to the monitoring also had led to misdemeanor charges and the suspension of the former sheriff, Steve Kukowski, who resigned last April. With his resignation, a removal proceeding brought by the governor and the two misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment and one of public servant failing to perform duty were dropped.