Grand Forks Officials Examine Jail Expansion

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Grand Forks County Commissioners took an important first step toward a possible jail expansion on Jan. 17, voting unanimously to hire an architect to complete a jail assessment and needs study, although a specific architect has not yet been selected. Funding for the study will come from leftover 2016 jail budget funds, and a bid for the study should be issued in the spring.

Although the 242-bed, $16 million facility was only completed in 2006, it has consistently dealt with populations at or above its rated capacity since 2012, as 20 beds are reserved for the bonding unit and accommodating necessary inmate separation and classification further strains the facility. Speaking with the Grand Forks Herald, Jail Administrator Bret Burkholder commented that in 2016 the daily average jail population hovered around 198, while is has gone as high as 215. The county also holds federal inmates and allows eight neighboring counties to house their inmates within the facility.

“Can [the jail] support a second floor or expand out to the north, out to the West?” Burkholder asked, as reported by the Grand Forks Herald. “We need the architect to tell us what is possible so that when the time comes, and it’s not here today, we have the ability to make an intelligent decision.”

Several other North Dakota communities have also embarked on significant jail construction and expansion projects in the past several years. Many have credited the projects to rising populations related to oil field operations. McKenzie County, for example, broke ground on a new 129-bed jail and law enforcement center in June 2015. Prior to that project, the county operated a 12-bed facility that typically was forced to manage upwards of 50 inmates.

Clay County also began the early phases of work on a new justice complex in 2016 that will include police department operations, the county sheriff’s office, a courthouse and a more than 200-bed jail all located within a six-block radius. The county currently operates the state’s oldest jail, which has also dealt with severe overcrowding in recent years.

Burleigh, Morton, Ward and Mountrail Counties have also begun and/or completed jail construction or expansion projects in recent years.