A discussion of the condition of the Mille Lacs County Jail, located in Milaca, took place during the county board work session on March 16.
Mille Lacs County Commissioner Tim Wilhelm asked, “We have parts of the jail that are old … is there a recommendation on what we can do to update?”
Mille Lacs County Jail Administrator Bradley Hunt noted the disrepair of the building, responding, “The old ’75 addition really needs to come out. The F-Block and G-Block have no insulation and have problems with infrastructure. The heat is going right out of the walls and windows. And it is a linear facility so we have one staff per 25 inmates which is lower than others.”
Chris Thoma, an inspector from the Minnesota Department of Corrections, said that the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) doesn’t exhaust enough moisture and that the cinder blocks are disintegrating and turning to sand. “If you tried to paint them, you can’t. This is not a good living condition for inmates with the disrepair of the area,” said Thoma. He added that the plumbing is 50 years old. “It is going to fail at some point.”
Thoma noted that part of the jail houses the “worst of the worst” inmates who need to be separated from other inmates because they can’t get along. He said that it will cost the County $60 per day to house out-of-county.
Hunt discussed the possibility of dividing the H-block to better utilize the space. “Maybe we build that first to house inmates there or house them out, but we need to start talking about it now as it’s a five-year process,” he said. “We’re never going to get a break in price, and the longer we hold out, the more it’s going to cost. It’s not going away and will only get worse.”
Thoma said that the DOC would never tell the County to remodel or build but would only give them recommendations. “Our goal is to make sure the facility is safe. If I find similar conditions in my next inspection, the DOC could say you can’t house as many inmates. I would encourage you to have the conversations … unless there is significant action taken in that area, it will not be suitable for inmates,” he said, adding the DOC commissioner would have to step in if the issues aren’t addressed.
Commissioner Genny Reynolds noted, “We’re looking at $1,500 per day which is $540,000 per year to house them somewhere else with 25 inmates at $60 per day. This doesn’t include other costs.” She added that if a remodel costs the County a million and a half, they could recover the cost after three years.
Hunt said, “Once we get past the COVID situation, we are going to jump up significantly because they’ll have to serve their time in the facility.”
Commissioner Roger Tellinghuisen said that he remembered not too long ago that there was a million dollars in revenue coming from boarding.
Hunt replied saying, “I can’t answer why … judges are allowing them to leave with a minimal bail. They send them out the door with the assumption they will come back to court, but that generally doesn’t happen.” He added that with COVID, it’s hurt every jail in the state, and the numbers are down about 50%.
Mille Lacs County Assistant Administrator Holly Wilson noted that Thoma in his last visit said that if they are making progress, the County would be considered compliant. Thoma responded stating that if they are making substantial progress toward alleviating the concerns, he could see the DOC allowing it to continue to operate. “If there is just talk, that is not substantial [progress],” he added, making the disclaimer that he wouldn’t build a jail as a revenue builder.
Commissioner Dave Oslin said that former sheriff Lindgren told them the facility was outdated and that they needed to plan ahead. “We do have a facility up north we could use temporarily. Perhaps it could save some money to shuffle inmates instead of sending them out, and for some time Mille Lacs County has supported the Mille Lacs Band to be an initiative tribe which would free up some space for us,” he said.
Consensus was made among the board to initiate a facilities study.