Jail efficiency study moves forward despite concerns from Douglas County Sheriff

Sheriff Matt Izzard asked the county board not to fund the $35,000 effort, as the county had a similar study done in 2012 and officials failed to act on that study's recommendations.

Government Center in Superior.jpg
Government Center in Superior. (Jed Carlson /

SUPERIOR — Douglas County is moving ahead with a study to improve efficiency of its jail.

The Douglas County Board voted 14-1 Thursday, April 20 to approve spending $35,000 for the study, despite Sheriff Matt Izzard sharing the history of the county failing to act on recommendations following a year-long study of the jail conducted in 2012.

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Supervisor Steve Long voted against the study after Izzard asked the board to forgo the study, which will be paid for with contingency funds.

When the jail was built behind the courthouse, presentations were made to the board about renting out beds to offset the cost of the new jail, which the sheriff at the time called optimistic, Izzard said. The business plan called for 42-45 employees for the facility to be fully staffed, which has since been cut to a maximum of 34, Izzard said.

When the county’s goal of offsetting the cost of operating the jail by renting beds to other law enforcement agencies hadn’t been realized, the county established a task force in 2012 to look for ways to operate the jail more efficiently. The panel of county residents, jail staff and county supervisors spent the next year working to develop recommendations to improve jail operations.


Recommendations included identifying current and future incarceration trends; conducting further financial analysis by comparing similarly sized facilities; improving operational efficiencies through shift schedules, administrative roles, booking and better technology utilization; engaging a consultant to investigate the feasibility of right-sizing the current facility to house only Douglas County inmates; improving marketing efforts to other law enforcement agencies; and analyzing and evaluating Huber and electronic monitoring for expansion.

“The sheriff’s office metrics have exceeded almost all recommendations of this task force report,” Izzard said. “From what I can tell, the shortfall of the report recommendations lies in the inaction of the county for the last 10 years, such as further financial analysis, identifying jail trends, comparisons of other jails, even hiring consultants and conducting other studies back then. My fear is we’ll spend a great deal of money on this study, and nothing will happen, just like last time.”

Izzard said while the board was aware that changes to jail staff status could be detrimental, the board made the decision to change the retirement status of jail staff not long after the task force report came out in 2013.

It was the board that made the decision to build the structurally inefficient jail, he said.

“If you want a $35,000 study to tell you what we’ve already studied, I will be happy to read it,” Izzard said. “And I’ll be open-minded about it, but I have a feeling it's going to be redundant.”

Under the scope of services approved by the board, The Samuels Group Inc. of Wausau will conduct an on-site investigation of the jail; review jail records and inspection reports to develop options to correct deficiencies; and share their findings with presentations to the Public Safety Committee and county board.

The study is expected to take about 120 days after the agreement is signed.

Shelley Nelson is a reporter with the Duluth Media Group since 1997, and has covered Superior and Douglas County communities and government for the Duluth News Tribune from 1999 to 2006, and the Superior Telegram since 2006. Contact her at 715-395-5022 or
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