Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Nov. 15, 1999

Wright County Jail needs more space

By John Holler

A decade ago, Wright County began construction on its new and improved courthouse.

At the time, Sheriff Don Hozempa, who was getting a larger jail facility, asked the board of commissioners to greatly increase the size of the proposed new jail. His rationale was that the county would probably outgrow the planned size of the facility within a decade. 

At the Nov. 2, board meeting ­ almost exactly a decade later from Hozempa's request ­ it was learned that that time has come. Hozempa, speaking before the board, said the jail is currently full and will soon require prisoners to again be housed elsewhere. 

"At the time we were planning the new jail, I said we were nearing capacity now on our own, and in 10 years, we would be full again," Hozempa said. "As it turned out, I was a couple of years off, but we're at that point now." 

When it was constructed, the jail was licensed for 93 beds. But, because a number of beds are designated for female inmates, juvenile inmates and Huber Law inmates, the actual daily working capacity is about 70 percent for the adult male prisoner population. At times, Hozempa said, the prisoner count on a given day has been as high as 118 incarcerated. 

"When the matter was first discussed in committee, the board wanted 75 beds and I wanted 150 beds," Hozempa said. "We settled on 107 beds and have maxed out on that already." 

When the jail was first constructed, the county was able to house prisoners from other counties, taking in $65-70 a day to board them in the available bed space. In the first years of the new facility, the revenue reached upwards of $1 million a year to take on other prisoners.

However, those days are long since gone and that revenue stream has dried up. Soon, Hozempa said, it will again become an expenditure line item. 

"We can't board other prisoners anymore," Hozempa said. "We used to take in about 20 prisoners a day from elsewhere. We can't do that anymore." 

Hozempa asked that the county re-form the defunct detention facilities committee to discuss the problem, which he said is nearing a crisis proportion.

While Commissioner Ken Jude supported the move, crediting Hozempa for being proactive, Board Chair Pat Sawatzke disagreed, saying that the county could easily be better off boarding prisoners out than doing new construction on the jail ­ which when originally built, was said to be able to be expanded vertically by two more floors in the future. 

"When you start adding in the costs of bonding for a project like that, you're talking millions of dollars spread out over several years," Sawatzke said. "Put on top of that the interest that accrues on the bonds and it would be more cost effective to just spend the money to board prisoners elsewhere. When you hear figures like $65 a day to board prisoners, it sounds like a lot. But when you factor in paying people to guard them and to feed them, you aren't making that much. That $1 million figure wasn't all profit. There were costs associated with that." 

The board agreed to restart the detention facilities committee, which will include Hozempa, two county commissioners, the county attorney, county coordinator, court services director, a district judge and jail administrator. While the committee will discuss several issues, the disposition of the jail and the growing prisoner population will be the top priority. 

"Hopefully, we can get something done to address this problem," Hozempa said. "It's getting to the point that we have to start doing something now, before it gets to the point that we're forced into doing something like we had to just a few years back." 

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