#8 — Jail up, sheriff out in 2016

Jill Schramm/MDN The exterior of the Ward County Jail expansion shows most of the work complete in December, with construction crews now focusing on the interior.

Construction on a new addition designed to expand the capacity of the Ward County Jail, and the removal of the county sheriff in favor of an interim sheriff, provided continued news on the county front during 2016.

Jail construction was one part of a county building project included in a tax proposal approved by Minot voters. The other two parts of the project were the construction of a new office building and renovation of the existing courthouse and jail. With construction complete on the new county office building in 2016, jail expansion rapidly grew from the ground up.

However, it was not without a series of changes and adjustments.

At one point, citing budget concerns, the architects responsible for the construction of the jail expansion cut 28 jail cells from the project. Later, county commissioners approved a plan to put the 28 jail cells back into the expansion. The expansion, which is expected to be completed in May 2018, is a nearly $40-million project designed to increase the jail’s capacity from 104 to 300 beds.

A primary feature of the jail addition is a two-story cell block that will be monitored by a single control room. The steel holding cells for the new facility are of the prefabricated variety and are expected to be installed in early 2017. A portion of the new jail, which will include new offices for the Sheriff’s Department, is situated to the north of the existing jail on a parking lot purchased from the Minot Daily News.

A reason cited for proponents of the new jail was over-crowding, the same issue that led, in part, to the suspension of Sheriff Steve Kukowski at mid-year. Kukowski had often appeared at meetings of the Ward County Commission to detail problems incurred with an increase of prisoners in the jail. Often there were more prisoners than bunks, which strained jail facilities and staff.

It was not until the death of inmate Dustin Irwin that over-crowding of the jail became an issue of statewide concern. Irwin died a few hours after being transferred to the custody of Burleigh County. The investigation that followed by the Bureau of Corrections concluded that over-crowding at the Ward County Jail was a contributing factor in the failure of jail operation to meet certain standards required by the state.

Kukowski was charged with two counts of reckless endangerment and one count of public servant refusing to perform duty as a result of the investigation into the death of Irwin. As a result, Gov. Jack Dalrymple suspended Kukowski pending a court resolution. The move was originally rejected by county commissioners but they reversed their opposition a day later.

Chief Deputy Bob Barnard was named interim sheriff in Kukowski’s absence and had his salary increased to $9,405 per month, the same amount as Kukowski. Despite the suspension, commissioners voted to continue to pay Kukowksi his regular monthly salary. Kukowski has a jury trial scheduled to begin Jan. 3.

The state assigned a monitor to oversee jail operations. Such monitoring is generally expected to be for less than one year. In the case of the Ward County Jail, the monitor remains in place. His initial 12-month period expired in June 2016 but the state informed Ward County that additional work was required. The cost of the monitor’s first year in Minot was $96,000, an amount paid by the county. A similar cost is expected as the monitor continues to oversee procedures at the jail in 2017.