Sheriff: No plans for now to release inmates from Cass County Jail during virus crisis

The Cass County Jail
The Cass County Jail, as seen Monday, Feb. 29, 2016, was recently involved in a case that alleged Muslim inmates were fed pork. Dave Wallis / Forum News Service

FARGO — The Cass County Jail doesn’t plan, for now, to release low-risk inmates from its facility amid a coronavirus crisis after its population has stabilized with ideal numbers, Sheriff Jesse Jahner said Tuesday, March 24.

To prevent overcrowding and have enough space to separate healthy and unhealthy inmates, county leaders last week floated the idea of releasing low-risk inmates after the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced it would stop taking new inmates through Monday, March 23. An executive order from Gov. Doug Burgum pushed that date back to April 6.

The Sheriff’s Department has instead taken other measures, such as setting court dates for suspected offenders instead of booking people for minor crimes like driving under suspension, to reduce the number of people coming into the jail, Jahner said. That has helped the population stay around the 220-inmate mark, he said.

“Our numbers are actually really good, better than we thought we would be at this point,” Jahner said. “I don’t foresee that we will be releasing anybody at this time, even in the near future.”

The jail had 276 inmates as of March 16. The jail has a maximum capacity of 348, but Jahner said the jail needs to have some cells for single bunks if it needs to separate sick inmates from healthy ones.


“We’re right around the number that we want to be,” he said. “In order to single-bunk people at the jail, the capacity for that is 212.”

Some inmates have completed their jail sentences since last week, he said. He also attributed the drop in population to court hearings being postponed.

Releasing inmates still is on the table, especially if the jail suddenly gets a flood of inmates, Jahner said.

“If it goes for a couple of weeks, I think we’ll be OK,” he said. “But if we end up going for months, then we are going to definitely have to reevaluate it.”

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April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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