#4: New Ward County Jail

Completion of the new Ward County jail occured in 2017. Inmates began occupying the new facility in late December. Jill Schramm/MDN

Ward County opened a new jail addition in 2017. The expansion, which increased inmate capacity from 104 beds to 300, was officially completed Nov. 3. Prisoners were ushered into the new facility in mid-December, a schedule that allowed ample time for staff from the sheriff’s department to become aquainted with the new facility.

As part of the introduction of the new jail, known as the Ward County Detention Center, a fundraiser for the Domestic Crisis Violence Center was held. About 30 people paid $50 each to undergo mock arrests and be placed in a cell overnight. The exercise gave jail personnel a chance to practice procedures necessary for future operation of the new facility.

The center was completed several months ahead of schedule. The targeted date for completion of construction was June 1.

It was in 2012 that voters approved a 10-year, half-cent sales tax to generate $39.3 million for county building projects. The projects were to be a new jail, new county office building, renovation of the courthouse and existing jail, roads and other infrastructure. However, it soon became apparent that more money would be needed to complete the projects.

In 2015 voters were asked by the county to approve an extension of sales tax collections for an additional $37 million. Voters approved the plan, which called for an estimated $40 million to be spent on the new jail and construction began.

2017 proved to be an interesting year at the old Ward County jail. The jail had been under a full-time compliance monitor from January 2015 through July 2017. The monitor was assigned by the North Dakota Department of Corrections following an investigation into the death of inmate Dustin Irwin in October 2014. In December 2017 Sheriff Bob Barnard reported to the Ward County Commision that the monitor visited the jail a few times in the second half of 2017, typically spending less than a day to conduct spot reviews on certain areas of operation.

Sheriff Steve Kukowski resigns

Ward County accepted the resignation of suspended Sheriff Steve Kukowski in April. The resignation included payment of $75,000 to Kukowski as part of a separation agreement approved by a 4-1 vote of Ward County commissioners.

Kukowski had been at the center of attention in the county following charges brought against him for reckless endangerment and being a public servant refusing to perform public duty. The charges stemmed from the death of inmate Dustin Irwin on Oct. 6, 2014.

Following a review of the matter by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, Kukowski was suspended from his duties by then governor Jack Dalrymple. The suspension was later upheld by the current governor, Doug Burgum.

Citing financial savings to the county should the lengthy court action cease, Ward County commissioners voted behind closed doors to dismiss both civil and criminal proceedings against Kukowski and the sheriff thereby avoided any trial on the matters.

Leann Bertsch, Bismarck, Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Director, had called the allegations against Kukowski “pretty serious” and said that “this is the most egregious situation I’ve ever run into” in 12 years in her position.