Citizens committee gets tour of county LEC; provided with jail study details and finances

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By Reed Anfinson
Swift County Monitor-News

Members of the Community Perspective Committee are getting deeper into their assignment of learning as much as they can about the building and jail needs of Swift County.

They were recently given a tour of the Swift County Law Enforcement Center, including the jail cells and deputy office spaces, Administrator Kelsey Baker said at the county board’s June 4 meeting.  A five-year budget detailing jailing and transport costs was given to committee members.

Committee members were also provided the medical costs that the county has to cover for inmates jailed in Granite Falls. The money spent with health services there could have been spent at Swift County-Benson Health Services rather than in Granite Falls, they were told.
Swift County’s 1985 Law Enforcement Center jail holds a maximum of 12 prisoners, but because of Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) rules it is generally half that number.

The mix of those prisoners, males and females, people with security or behavioral issues, prisoners who have to be separated from each other due to testimony concerns, also lowers the number of people who can be jailed in Benson at any one time.

The county has averaged five to six prisoners held at the LEC jail in recent years. The average daily population of those required to be jailed has varied between 14 and 16 in the four years between 2014 and 2017. That has meant placing nine to 11 prisoners are housed in other jails in the region. At times, those prisoners can be transported up to 200 miles away if they have special needs that can’t be dealt with locally.

A jail study commissioned by the county board show that the average daily population of prisoners needing to be jailed is expected to reach 16 by 2025 and by 2040 will be near 19.

There are hundreds of hours of deputy time spent transporting prisoners back and forth between jails and the county for hearings. Swift County Human Services and 6W Corrections staff also spend time on the road driving to meet with prisoners held at other jails.

After Sheriff John Holtz gave a tour of the jail facilities, about half the committee had to leave, Administrator Kelsey Baker said. However, the remaining members sat down for a discussion about what they had seen and the information they have been provided.

Committee members are not afraid to speak their minds, or ask questions, Baker said. They want information, whether they are for it or not, so they can get a better understanding of the challenges the county faces, she said.

“They had awesome questions,” Holtz agreed. Further, he has been getting calls from committee members wanting additional information or an explanation of why the sheriff’s office does things the way it does, he said.

The committee was scheduled to tour the county attorney’s office and then human services, this week. They were then going to sit down for a longer meeting with every committee member attending, Baker said.

6 W’s Executive Director Midge Christianson sent a letter to Commissioners Pete Peterson, District 3-south Benson and Torning Township, and Commissioner Gary Hendrickx, District 1-Appleton on safety concerns with its current courthouse offices in the basement of the LEC and the pros and cons of the probation officers being close to the LEC.

“The people asked a lot of questions on why things have to be done the way they are,” Holtz said. “Unless you run it, you don’t understand it.”

The Community Perspectives Committee was formed by the county board to give citizens input on a proposed $17.5 million Swift County Justice Center. The proposed two-story 38,000 square foot building would be constructed on the west side of the courthouse and house a new Swift County Sheriff’s Office, an expanded jail, human services, 6W Community Corrections, the county attorney’s office and Restorative Practices...

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