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Jail funds coming up short in Devils Lake: Fewer inmates means Lake Region facility facing deficit

DEVILS LAKE, N.D. -- Facing budget issues resulting from a trend toward lower inmate populations, plus increasing regulations, the five-county Lake Region Law Enforcement Center is seeking additional funding sources to help the facility break eve...

DEVILS LAKE, N.D. -- Facing budget issues resulting from a trend toward lower inmate populations, plus increasing regulations, the five-county Lake Region Law Enforcement Center is seeking additional funding sources to help the facility break even financially.

The board agreed this week to invite county commissioners, area legislators and other stakeholders to an upcoming meeting, possibly in March.

"I think it's an opportune time to talk to our legislators. This is only going to get worse," said Ed Brown, a Ramsey County commissioner and chairman of the jail board.

Lake Region LEC saw a significant reduction in inmate population the last quarter of 2015. From January through September, the average daily inmate count was 90.7. In the last three months of the year, it dropped to 82.2.

The jail has a capacity of 108.

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"If it takes an average of 91 prisoners to break even and we're only at 81, we can see in an instant where we're short and why we're short," said Dale Robbins, a board member and Devils Lake City commissioner.

The Lake Region Law Enforcement Center is a regional facility serving the counties of Benson, Eddy, Nelson, Ramsey and Towner, each of which contributes money annual to its operation and pays a daily rate for prisoners staying in the jail.

The center also is the home of the Ramsey County Sheriff's Department, Devils Lake Police Department and Lake Region 911, which pay rent for their offices.

LEC Administrator Tom Rime said while inmate numbers were increasing rapidly across the state during the oil boom, the numbers have begun to fall in recent months.

The LEC lost a major source of revenue when its eight-bed juvenile facility closed in 2014. It was built in 2003.

The closing came after the LEC lost its contract with the federal government to house juvenile offenders from around the country. That program brought in more than $1 million annually nearly a decade ago and more than $500,000 in 2011 and 2012.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs also paid more than $250,000 annually in 2012 and 2013 to house juveniles in the facility.

In addition to lost revenue, participating counties are paying to send juveniles to the Grand Forks County Juvenile Detention Center and other facilities.

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Lake Region revenue from adult prisoners through the BIA also has decreased, from $465,000 in 2014 to $182,000 last year.

In 2014, the LEC raised the daily rates it charges cities and counties to house inmates. However, officials say that is not enough to cover the shortfall.

"We need to create a funding stream that does not solely rely on bodies and beds," Rime said.

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