Taxpayers foot the bill for transporting prisoners in Stark County
If more defendants chose to do preliminary hearings and other short court appearances via interactive television, the Stark County Sheriff's Office would spend less time and money on prisoner transport.
In 2012, the SCSO did 438 transports for various reasons and to various locations, including 200-mile round trips to Bismarck and 400-mile round trips to Jamestown, Sheriff Clarence Tuhy said.
County sheriff's offices are responsible for transporting jailed individuals back and forth between court, any medical appointments and, if sentenced, to the North Dakota State Penitentiary.
Transporting individuals from the Southwest Multi-County Correctional Center to locations in and around Dickinson isn't a great bother, Tuhy said. It's when transporting to Bismarck or to the North Dakota State Hospital in Jamestown for mental health reasons that it can be bothersome, especially when the courts have not coordinated with the SCSO and trips are wasted.
"If we pick up an individual in Jamestown ... come down to the courthouse, he waives his right to a hearing, we turn around and take him back," he said.
For short hearings and other court appearances, Tuhy said he wishes defendants would utilize interactive television court, especially when they are traveling great distances.
"That is available just about anywhere," he said. "That would save a lot of time and money."
The county foots the bill for all transports.
SCSO tries to transfer more than one prisoner and will coordinate with other counties to make the most of a long trip. It will also coordinate trips to Bismarck and Jamestown.
Figuring 55 cents per mile, a trip to Bismarck to the North Dakota State Penitentiary costs $110 in vehicle expenses, plus labor for the special deputies, Tuhy said. That can vary depending on wage. There are always two deputies on a transport.
The special deputies are individuals who do not perform the same duties as a full deputy, but do provide help, such as transports, he said. They are often retired law enforcement, but do not have to be.
Mental health transfers can be the trickiest to coordinate because they have to be completed within 24 hours of an arrest if it is determined the arrestee suffers from mental health issues, he said. Otherwise, they need to be released. Not all mental health transfers must go to Jamestown; the evaluating doctor can refer an arrestee to a hospital in Bismarck.
In Stark County, the sheriff's office will often help out with transporting other counties' prisoners within Dickinson because of proximity, Tuhy said.
"Let's say Bowman County -- which is an hour and a half, good hour from here -- if they've got a prisoner to take for a preliminary hearing or a bond hearing, they'll probably call us and see if we can do that," he said. "We do that because it takes maybe a 15 to 20 minute hearing and you're driving 150-mile round trip plus an officer isn't feasible."
The Stark County State's Attorney's office will write in the judgement that the SCSO is responsible for the transport of prisoners to the State Penitentiary.
Deputies in Hettinger County will make the trip up to Dickinson to take care of their prisoners, Deputy Josh Bullinger said.
"We make it a point to be available for those transports," he said. "We usually don't try to burden anybody else with transporting our cases."
Prisoners are transported in a minivan equipped with radio communications, a shatter-proof plexiglass shield between the driver and the passengers and a rifle. SCSO will be trading that van in soon for a marked transport van.
A message left for each North Dakota State Penitentiary Warden Robyn T. Schmalenberger and Deputy Warden Pat Branson went unreturned Friday.