Flush with murder suspects, Ramsey County jail is running out of space

Ramsey County jail is running out of space to hold new inmates as it struggles with a backlog of murder suspects and other issues.

Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher addresses the Board of Commissioners this week. (Ramsey County)

Ramsey County, which covers St. Paul, is running out of space to hold criminals in its 500-bed facility, according to Sheriff Bob Fletcher.

“There was a day in April where we only had 19 empty beds,” he told the county commissioners at a meeting earlier this week, noting that the situation is likely to worsen over the summer. Fletcher said that day in April was not an anomaly but fits with the “trends that we’re seeing right now in corrections.”

“Our [jail] population as of this date is up 140 [inmates] on average over last year,” he reported.

Part of this increase is due to the loosening of COVID-19 protocols, simply allowing the jail to house more inmates. In April 2020, the jail cut its inmate capacity by 54% “to significantly reduce the possibility of [COVID-19] virus transmission,” per an official statement.

However, the sheriff also pointed out that “the number of homicides and manslaughters has skyrocketed in the last two years,” creating a backlog of “45 to 50” inmates in county lockup awaiting trial for these crimes.

This high concentration of suspected murderers in the Ramsey County jail “is a number that we’ve never seen before,” Fletcher said.

The sheriff’s comments came during a proclamation for Correctional Officers Week, a time to recognize the work of these officers in the county. In addition to outlining the issues he sees, Fletcher promised to send the county commissioners a letter detailing what he thinks needs to be done as soon as next week to spur “some discussion on how we can better address this overcrowding.”

“They want some help,” he said, referring to the correctional officers standing behind him. “It could be a very difficult July and August if we don’t make some adjustments.”

Ramsey County is reportedly declining to jail suspects with arrest warrants from other counties.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office claimed last month that Ramsey would not hold a suspect who had a felony Washington County warrant.

“That’s ok, we got it, we will gladly take them to jail!” the Washington County Sheriff’s Office wrote on Twitter, responding publicly to the situation.