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Cass, Clay inmates will help fight Moorhead flood

Minnesota jail prisoners provided about 3,000 hours worth of sandbag filling and other work during the flood fight of 2009.

They'll help again if flooding hits this spring, according to Clay County Sheriff Bill Bergquist, who said prisoners do community service work throughout the county on almost a daily basis.

Jobs range from mowing grass for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to doing maintenance at schools and other government buildings, as well as at places owned by nonprofit organizations.

If a flood strikes, prisoners will be sent to where help is most needed, Bergquist said.

Moorhead has asked for volunteers to help fill sandbags at a public works facility in north Moorhead starting this coming week, but if more help is needed, the city may request the assistance of prisoners from the Clay County Jail, City Manager Michael Redlinger said.

Fargo officials have announced that prisoners from the Cass County Jail will pitch in this coming week when Fargo's sandbag filling efforts get under way.

Ryan Bauske, a Cass County deputy who supervises work details, said that during last year's flood fight judges agreed to allow prisoners to shave off an hour of their sentence for every hour they work in the community.

Bauske anticipates a similar arrangement will be set up this year.

Eligible prisoners include those housed in the minimum security portion of the jail.

Prisoners in Clay County who have been sentenced, or are being held prior to trial, can volunteer for county work detail if they are deemed to be no threat to the public.

Under that program, prisoners can reduce their jail stay by one day for every 10 days of community service they put in, said Ryan Mullikin, assistant jail administrator.

A separate program called "sentence to serve" allows prisoners to do community service work as a way to pay off fines or fees they have been sentenced to pay.

That program, coordinated by the Minnesota Department of Corrections, was used extensively in last year's flood, according to Mike Stoltman, a Department of Corrections supervisor in Moorhead.

Stoltman said when flooding threatened buildings on the Clay County government campus, prisoners boxed up items from basement areas and moved them to higher ground.

"That was aside from all the sandbags they threw," Stoltman said, adding that prisoners put in about 3,000 hours of work in total, with some coming from as far away as Hubbard and Otter Tail counties.

He said jail prisoners in Minnesota have pitched in during other disasters as well, including the tornado that struck Granite Falls, Minn., several years ago.