- Associated Press - Monday, February 9, 2015

MINOT, N.D. (AP) - A growing inmate population has some jails bursting at the seams, and not just in Ward County.

Ward County voters will decide Feb. 24 whether to approve a jail expansion of 100 cells, estimated to cost nearly $40 million. Money would come from a half-cent sales tax previously approved by voters for building projects.

Burleigh and Morton county voters approved a half-cent sales tax last summer for a $70 million combined, new jail. Mountrail, McKenzie, Rolette and Bottineau counties also are planning new facilities.

Mountrail County plans to begin construction in the spring on a 40-bed jail to replace its existing 12-bed facility, which is more than 100 years old. The new facility would open sometime next year.

“This is something that we have needed here for quite a period of time, but we really have gotten to the point here where it’s a necessity,” Sheriff Ken Halvorson told the Minot Daily News (https://bit.ly/16q6KOP ).

Halvorson said the county has been housing five to six inmates at outside facilities on a regular basis because of lack of space. The jail assists New Town, Stanley, Powers Lake and Burke County, but it is difficult to do so with the limited space, Halvorson said.

According to the county auditor’s office, Mountrail County has been setting money aside for a jail and plans to pay for the project without any tax increases. The money would largely come from oil tax revenues and grants. Architects still are developing a cost estimate but the county is hoping to keep the cost below $20 million.

McKenzie County has purchased land for a new jail and commissioned an architect to develop a design for a facility to be around 120 beds. The current jail has nine cells, and the county is having to house inmates elsewhere at a cost of $1 million to $1.5 million a year, Sheriff Gary Schwartzenberger said.

“The rationale is we are spending enough transferring prisoners and holding prisoners in other communities that there would be enough cost savings to actually have our own facility,” said Gene Veeder, executive director of the county’s Job Development Authority.

The county is considering options in construction that would provide enough space to house outside prisoners, such as federal prisoners, which would address a need there but also generate some income.

“That wouldn’t be our priority, of course,” Schwartzenberger said. “Our priority is to take care of the county.”

The board of commissioners recently officially approved a three-year, $53 million project that would create a law enforcement center for the county, city and other law enforcement agencies. Construction is expected to begin this spring.

County auditor Linda Svihovec said the county recently remodeled its court chambers and jail and would continue to use those facilities. The current jail could be used to hold inmates awaiting hearings.

The project will be funded with existing revenue. However, it is expected the prioritization of the law enforcement center will postpone some other capital improvements, including certain road projects.

Williams County is looking at an expansion of the law enforcement center built in 2008. The facility was full five years after it opened.

The facility added more beds and still has more inmates than it can handle. Sheriff Scott Busching said the jail regularly has four to eight inmates boarded at other facilities. The jail recently was housing 130 inmates in its 132-bed facility.

Busching said managing inmate numbers is more complicated than simply staying under total capacity. Jails cannot mix different classifications of inmates, such as men and women or pre-trial and sentenced individuals. The jail might have beds open but still be overbooked in certain classifications.

For that reason, industry standards advise keeping occupancy at only 85 percent full.

“We are going to expand,” Busching said. “We have to do it. We just don’t know quite how we are going to fund it yet.”

Williams County is waiting to see what the legislature might do to help out counties facing jail crowding. It is not the only county waiting on the legislature.

Rolette County is in the early stage of planning a new jail and hopes the legislature might provide some help.

“We need to do something,” Rolette County Auditor Valerie McCloud said. “Our jail is very outdated, and it just doesn’t make sense to try to renovate when we don’t have enough room.”

McCloud said the county wants to visit with neighboring counties and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Tribe to determine what shared use they might see for a new jail before determining how large to build. The current capacity is a little over 20 inmates, but McCloud said due to the separation required of different classes of prisoners, the jail can’t always hold its capacity. The county has been relocating inmates to other facilities.

Bottineau County is hoping for legislative funding through what is known as the surge bill to be able to replace its older, nine-inmate jail with a new 22-inmate jail estimated to cost $3.5 million. County Auditor Lisa Herbel said it is unlikely the county would be able to come up with local funds to build a jail, although a new facility is needed.

Northeast District Judge Michael Sturdevant said mandatory minimum sentences for driving under the influence have created a backlog of offenders waiting their turn for open jail beds. When necessary to hold someone when the jail is already full, the sheriff’s department must tie up a deputy in transporting an inmate to the Lake Region Correctional Center in Devils Lake, he said.

The sheriff’s departments in Rolette and Renville counties experience a similar impact, Sturdevant said. Renville doesn’t have a county jail but has relied on Bottineau’s facility.

Burleigh and Morton counties are about to bid their proposed 476-inmate facility. The project could be finished by early 2017.


Information from: Minot Daily News, https://www.minotdailynews.com

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide