Josh Goes to Jail (along with Leadership Sioux Falls)

By Josh KattenbergMinihaha County Cellblocks 2

JOSH GOES TO JAIL …well…sort of.

As part of Leadership Sioux Falls, we had the opportunity to meet with Minnehaha County Sherriff Mike Milstead (a graduate of Leadership Sioux Falls #10), Warden Jeff Gromer and Chief Deputy Michelle Boyd to tour the work release building, the old jail, and the new jail. Here are some interesting things we learned:

  • The flashlight attached to the SWAT rifles is a more effective weapon than the rifle itself. It is so bright it causes physical pain and completely disorients a subject to bring about a quick resolution without death or permanent injury.
  • The new jail has a Skype visitation system. Inmates and family members no longer sit across from each other in a visitation area separated by glass. Instead, inmates can visit right from the cellblock to anywhere in the world through the use of video. The inmates or their families pay for the minutes used which pays for the equipment. This system saves the county money by reducing the number of staff needed to move inmates to the visitation area.
  • The County has a 24/7 sobriety program. People who have been convicted of an alcohol related crime come to the jail twice a day to do a quick Breathalyzer. If they have alcohol in their system, they are immediately put back in jail. This program keeps a lot of people out of jail, while at the same time keeping them free of alcohol. The people in the program pay $1 per Breathalyzer test, which pays for the program.
  • The County struggles with people who have mental illness. Often these folks self-medicate with alcohol and drugs. Then they are arrested and brought to jail. Once they sober up, they are back out on the street again, and the cycle repeats. The county knows that the answer is not to put these people in jail, but there is currently no mechanism in place to get them the help they need.
  • The old jail is currently unused. Because it is all concrete and rebar, it is extremely expensive to remodel. Built in the 70s, there are no real plans on what to do with the space. When it was in use, the warden and sheriff’s offices were under the cellblocks, a level down. When the inmates got disgruntled, they would back up the toilets, which would then cause a flood in the lower level offices. That is a whole other level of “A bad day at the office.”

Minihaha County CellblocksWhile at the jail, we had a dinner of prison food while learning how CBM, the company who prepares the food, came to be. About 15 years ago, the Sejnoha family owned only one restaurant in Sioux Falls. Sioux Falls locals will know this restaurant as Marlins. Knowing nothing about prison food prep, they bid on the contract to supply the Minnehaha Jail with meals. They beat the competition by a 1/2 penny with a bid of $1.35 1/2 per meal. They went from 1 restaurant with about a million in sales to 1500 employees and $100 million in annual sales. They serve prison meals to some of the largest prison populations in the US including the Chicago jail system. The company continues to be run by the five siblings right from Sioux Falls. However, instead of charging $1.36 per meal, a decade and a half later they now charge $.80 per meal. This all started with giving this local family a chance to supply the Minnehaha jail with meals.

Who knew that a day in jail could offer so much education?