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Otter Tail County Jail employees talk safety following guard killing

Concerns for employees of the Otter Tail County jail have been expressed following the July 18 killing of a corrections officer at the Stillwater prison.

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Reviewing Otter Tail County jail security are Lt. Beth Carlson. assistant jail administrator, and Lt. Jim Stewart, jail administrator. Tom Hintgen/Otter Tail County Correspondent.

Concerns for employees of the Otter Tail County jail have been expressed following the July 18 killing of a corrections officer at the Stillwater prison.

The inmate who killed officer Joseph Gomm, 45, was serving a 29-year term for fatally stabbing a Bloomington man in 2002.

"There's a big difference between a county jail and a state prison," says Otter Tail County Jail Administrator Lt. Jim Stewart. "Nonetheless, the Stillwater incident really hits home with us here in western Minnesota."

Stewart said that in the past 10 years, there have been some assaults by inmates at the Otter Tail County jail. However, only two of those incidents were serious in nature.

"In one case, a jail employee suffered a broken jaw and in another incident an employee sustained a black eye," Stewart said. "Sometimes it takes as many as four of us to subdue an individual housed at our jail."

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He said that successfully reading body language can preclude an altercation. Potentially violent criminals can be segregated in holding cells.

"We have good training for corrections officers, both men and women, who work to maintain a safe and secure environment at our county detention center," Stewart said.

There currently are 13 male employees and 7 female employees who work at the county jail, adjacent to the courthouse just south of downtown Fergus Falls.

"With physical takedowns, we strive for the team concept when going into cell blocks," says Lt. Beth Carlson. assistant jail administrator. "Extra caution is always part of our strategy."

Stewart points out that female employees at the county jail have the same job responsibilities as male employees.

He said that women employees who work in corrections are doing good jobs all across the state of Minnesota. At least one female employee is at the county jail 24-7, he added.

A minimum of 120 hours of training is required before an employee can work inside the county jail. Today more of the inmates have issues with mental illness and drug and alcohol abuse.

The current detention facility for Otter Tail County was built in 1987. There is capacity for 111 inmates. Beds for male inmates total 93 and there are 18 beds for females. Adjoining counties share custody when overflow exists in one facility.

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The county jail in Fergus Falls recently went from 2 to 7 holding cells and built a second elevator.

"Our employees at the county jail are indeed unsung heroes," Stewart emphasized.

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