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No room in the maximum-security jail

There has been barely a bed to spare at the Becker County Jail's maximum-security facility over the past three months.

"We've been running full since about July 17," said Sheriff Tim Gordon on Tuesday. "We've been boarding out prisoners on and off since then... as of today, there are five (maximum security inmates) boarded out to other counties."

In fact, the county was boarding out as many as seven prisoners during one period this summer, he added. And at an average cost of $55 per prisoner, per day, that bill can add up pretty fast.

But Gordon expects that the jail's current occupancy of 47 in maximum security -- the most allowed to be boarded in-county by the state's Department of Corrections at a given time --will be "down to 44 after some arraignments today (Tuesday)."

"I'm hoping that by the end of the week we'll have all our out-county boarders back (in the Becker County facility)," Gordon said.

Occasionally, when local law enforcement has an unusually busy weekend, the jail might temporarily "double-bunk" its inmates -- but only temporarily.

"We've been in the 50-55 range after a busy weekend," Gordon said. When that happens, "then the state calls us."

But the DOC does give Gordon a little leeway to address that situation when it arises.

"They understand that I can't empty the jail in anticipation of a busy weekend," Gordon said. "We have a good relationship."

Part of the reason for that good relationship may be the 48-bed, minimum security facility that was opened in Becker County a couple of years ago, he added.

"The minimum security jail allowed us to segregate the inmates according to classification of sentence/level of crime," Gordon said.

Minimum security inmates are generally classified as non-violent and not considered to be an escape risk, Gordon noted.

The minimum security facility also allowed the county jail to double its inmate capacity --and opened up an additional source of income.

When the minimum-security facility is not filled to capacity by Becker County inmates -- currently the county has about 10 beds available -- Gordon can "actively pursue" boarding agreements with other counties, and the state as well.

"We currently have five boarding agreements -- three with the State of Minnesota, and two with other counties," Gordon said. In all, about 17 of the inmates currently boarded at the Becker County facility are from other areas of the state.

"Last month we billed out $20,227 for boarding (by the state and other counties) at our minimum security jail," Gordon said.

That income does much to offset the cost of boarding out maximum security prisoners to neighboring counties, Gordon noted.

"Plus, we have work release -- the prisoners (in minimum security) pay $15 a day for the right to work," he added.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454