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Mahnomen County may contract for beds in new Becker County Jail

Mahnomen County is considering a three-year contract to board a limited number of inmates in the new Becker County Jail.

The jail is expected to cost about $18 million and hold 157 to 170 inmates, both maximum and minimum security.

It will be built on Highway 59 just north of Detroit Lakes. The county has asked the city to annex the land so that it can provide city sewer and water.

A proposed timeline calls for the jail to open August of 2018.

Commissioners from Mahnomen and Becker County met Tuesday to discuss a potential contract.

It would allow Becker County to build the jail with future growth in mind, while recouping part of the operating costs by collecting standard boarding fees of $55 per day per inmate.

It would help offset the "true cost" to Becker County of about $110 per inmate per day to operate its jail, said County Administrator Jack Ingstad.

Mahnomen County would benefit by having a guaranteed number of beds at a set price, in a location that is easily accessible via Highway 59.

It already pays $55 a bed, in some cases less, to board-out its inmates.

But it has no long-term contracts and no guaranteed jail beds, which are becoming scarcer in Minnesota with rising crime rates.

Mahnomen County does not have a jail, and is now boarding out about 50 inmates a month in other jails, mostly in the Clearwater County Jail in Bagley, but also in further-flung jails.

Mahnomen County spent a little over $700,000 last year on boarding costs, not including transportation and associated costs, said Mahnomen County Board Chair Dave Geray.

It would like to arrange a contract with Becker County for as many as 50 inmate beds, but in order to make sure there is enough room for its own prisoners, Becker County is leaning towards a contract accepting perhaps half that many.

Jail costs have been soaring in Becker County, which has budgeted over $600,000 next year to pay for boarding its overflow of prisoners in other counties.

Becker County also spends $240,000 a year to board its juvenile inmates at a juvenile detention center in Clay County.

Becker County has 40 beds in its maximum security jail in the courthouse annex and 48 beds in its minimum security workhouse, which will be closed to save staffing costs when the new jail opens.

"We hope to open up the new jail with our current (corrections) staff," said Becker County Sheriff Todd Glander.

More staff will be added if required for inmate population growth, he added.

Running a jail at maximum efficiency is like working a Rubik's Cube puzzle, because so many segments of a jail population cannot be mixed — men and women, minimum and maximum security, juveniles that can held less than 24 hours, mentally ill prisoners that need to be isolated from the general population, and other factors that come into play.

That's why the new county jail will be built using pie-shaped "pods" around a central control area. It's more efficient, and safer for corrections staff and maintenance workers, who don't have to access cells to work on plumbing and electrical problems.

"I would like to see us build the jail for our (current inmate population) size, including growth," said Becker County Board Chair Barry Nelson. "So it would benefit Mahnomen County on the short term to house their prisoners with us."

There needs to be at least a programming area for people with mental illness, said Becker County Commissioner Don Skarie.

"I think this stuff is going to get mandated, and we'd be really foolish not to prepare for it," he said.

There was a lot of discussion during the hour-long meeting in Detroit Lakes, and both sides appeared interested in coming to an arrangement, but no action was taken Tuesday.

Members of the two county boards will stay in touch via the committee system and any contract will be negotiated as the planning process continues.