Sheriff and TGB Discuss Jail Diversion Programs
By Joe Morey
The Sawyer County Sheriff, Doug Mrotek, and some of his senior staff, met with the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Governing Board (TGB) on Tuesday, Feb. 18, in the Tribal Council Chambers to discuss current and possible jail diversion programs among other concerns of the TGB.
“I’m a strong advocate for diversion programming and what we’re doing isn’t doing the best, so I’m open for more programming,” Mrotek told the TGB. One current program Mrotek does support is a construction class through Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College (WITC) which helps inmates learn trade skills, earn college credit, and help build a storage facility for the New Reflections Pathway to Hope Women and Children’s Shelter, formerly the Sunset Home on Hwy B in Hayward.
There are currently five Huber and non-working Huber inmates participating in the class of which three are Native.
Jail Lt. Jeff Johnson said teaching the inmates a job skill is well worth it if it prevents even one inmate from coming back.
Sheriff Mrotek said the jail is bursting at the seams in population.
“We are over 120 inmates and last year at this time we were in the 80’s,” Mrotek stated.
Mrotek said mental health issues are not being served and there isn’t enough funds budgeted to address the increased population. He added it’s taking a toll on the inmates and the jail staff.
“We have mental health care providers, so why can’t they go in and see our people,” TGB member Tweed Shuman asked. Shuman said he’d like to see a connection started between mental health providers and the inmates prior to their release so that something is set up for them when they come out.
Johnson said the sheriff’s department is currently contracted with an agency which prevents any other providers from coming in. He said maybe the LCO care providers could contact their agency and work through them to come into the jail.
LCO Chairman Louis Taylor said the Tribe is looking into having a public defender and/or probation and parole. Mrotek replied it would be great and in theory, it would probably reduce the jail population.
Mrotek also informed the TGB about a new electronic monitoring program the sheriff’s department recently began. He said it’s been 16 years since they had electronic monitoring.
After the sheriff informed the TGB that 65% of the jail population is Native, Shuman asked the sheriff about tribal members who are incarcerated and haven’t made bail about getting on the monitor to help reduce the jail population. Mrotek said the program is only for sentenced inmates and currently, only six to eight inmates per month are eligible.
Mrotek explained that two/thirds of the jail population are persons going through the court process who haven’t been sentenced yet and have bond amounts or they are people on probation holds. He explained it’s up to the judge when they are not sentenced yet what their bail bond amount is. Mrotek said he only has control over the inmates who have been sentenced to the county jail.
Regarding the electronic monitoring program, “We’ve started with a firm protocol because we don’t want anything to go wrong in the beginning,” Mrotek said. “We want the program to be a success.”
Mrotek told the TGB if you took drugs and alcohol out of the equation, it would reduce the jail population by 80%. He explained the element of addiction is the major factor for the overpopulated jail.
“What is it going to take? Better treatment, more consequence or better education,” Mrotek stated. “if we pumped the amount of money we put into rehabilitation, if we pumped that into education of our youth, would we be that much further ahead,” Mrotek asked.
Mrotek told the TGB if they have any concerns to contact him. He said he wants better communication between the sheriff’s department and the Tribe.
Sawyer County Sheriff Dept. Administration from L-R) Jail Lt. Jeff Johnson, Patrol Lt. Greg Ripczinski, Chief Deputy Joe Sajdera, and Sheriff Doug Mrotek meeting with TGB at the Tribal Council Meeting Room.