Steele County still hopes to rent jail space to Freeborn, others

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 19, 2002

While Freeborn County took another step toward building a judicial facility, nearby Steele County is calling for attention to its new jail. The 160-bed facility under construction is designed to rent out some beds to other counties &045; including Freeborn.

Selling the idea of renting, Steele County Building Committee Chair Tom Shea encourages other counties to remodel their existing jail and utilize the Steele facility to substitute for their space shortages.

By sending prisoners to his county, others can cut their expenses by a third in comparison to building a new jail, Shea said.

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The 59,500 square-foot new facility will charge $80 a night for short-term detention and $68 to $62 for longer stays, according to Shea.

&uot;It is a good alternative for other counties,&uot; he said. &uot;We will have a maximum level of efficiency here. And other counties can save tremendous expense to build a brand-new jail.&uot;

Shea named Dodge, Blue Earth, Rice, Mower and Freeborn counties as possible partners.

Steele County anticipates sentenced inmates who do not need further court appearances are suitable candidates for the rental space, while the counties can hold pre-sentencing and work-release inmates in their own refurbished jails. A video hearing room would enable detainees to have an arraignment hearing without showing up in a courtroom.

The jail size was determined through a detailed study about cost-effectiveness, according to Steele County Sheriff Gary Ringhofer.

Ringhofer said the current jail needs in Steele County could be satisfied with lesser bed numbers. But operating a 100-bed jail incurs around 40 percent more per-inmate cost than the 160-bed model.

A direct-supervision model allows fewer of jail staff to supervise more inmates. Under that model, the staff-inmate ratio improves from 1.8 to 3.8. And a geothermal heating and cooling system and energy efficient air-controlling equipment contributes to saving utility costs, Shea added.

The total construction cost is $13 million. The county issued $2.5 million in bonds with 15-year maturity last year and $9.95 million with 25-year maturity earlier this year.

Freeborn County Commissioner Dave Mullenbach stressed that the county does not have any obligation to comply with Steele County’s proposal.

Months ago, Freeborn, Mower and Steele counties got together to discuss a joint regional jail. But Freeborn backed out due to uncertainty in jurisdictional issues, he said. &uot;Then, Steele County decided to go alone. So, Freeborn County has no commitment to their new jail.&uot;

Admitting that it might be too late to incorporate the proposal into Freeborn County’s scheme now, Commissioner Dan Belshan said, &uot;It could be an option we should have looked at.&uot;

Belshan opposed the schematic design of the new judicial center, and said there still should be another concept that uses the existing jail instead of replacing it.