FERGUS FALLS -- In 2010 the average number of daily inmates at the county jail in Fergus Falls was close to 50. In 2019 the average daily number of inmates had increased to 82.

“Inmates today are not like the inmates of 20 years ago,” said Jim Stewart, county jail administrator.

Society has changed in recent years with more people facing mental illness, drug abuse and other issues.

“We’re currently making internal security modifications here at the county jail,” Stewart said Jan. 30 during a meeting with newspaper and radio personnel.

In late 2017 five new holding cells and a second elevator were added at the county jail, adjacent to the sheriff’s office just south of downtown Fergus Falls. The five new holding cells were added to the two holding cells formerly in place, for a total of seven at the current time.

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There are 40 sheriff office employees who work at the county jail, with 29 of them full-time and 11 who work on a part-time basis.

On Monday, Jan. 27, there were 96 inmates being held at the county jail. The maximum, according to Stewart, is 111.

Usage of the county jail increased following the closing of the Fergus Falls detoxification center in 2016. County employees at the jail had to keep people under the influence for longer periods of time.

That issue has been addressed by county and state agencies, along with state legislators. They all agree that more facilities to help people under the influence of alcohol and drugs are needed.

A second elevator, in place in late 2017, didn’t come soon enough for Stewart and his employees at the county jail.

Before that, an older elevator was out of service for five months.

“We had to walk the inmates up three flights of stairs, for booking,” Stewart said. “A lot of them were not very cooperative.”

The addition of the five holding cells and a second elevator met with almost unanimous support from county residents. The county board of commissioners approved the project that cost $1.3 million and came in under budget.

“The new holding cells are safer for people under arrest and also are safer for staff members,” Stewart said.