Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Aug. 14, 2000

Wright board to meet with Benton County about jail usage

By John Holler

Wright and Benton counties are learning the old system of supply and demand when it comes to their mutual problems with capacity at their county jails - Benton County has a supply and Wright County has a demand.

At the Aug. 8 meeting of the Wright County Board, the commissioners approved a meeting that may be without precedent, as the board agreed to meet with the entire Benton County Board, as well as its sheriff and county coordinator, to discuss options concerning Wright County's jail space crunch and Benton County's jail bed availability.

"In discussions I had with the county coordinator of Benton County, their county board is interested in being a part of our next (detention facilities committee) meeting," Wright County Coordinator Dick Norman said. "They want to discuss the issue of housing some of our prisoners there and are willing to send their county board and sheriff over here to be part of that meeting."

The jail issue has been something that has hounded Wright County for the past year. The jail has reached its capacity far quicker than projections at the time of construction and Wright County is spending thousands of dollars every week to have prisoners boarded elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Benton County has had a difficult time getting prisoners to its county jail in Foley because of extended travel time and a new facility opening in Elk River that is easier for Twins Cities prisoners to be housed.

The agenda for the meeting, scheduled for 9 a.m., Monday, Aug. 21, is to discuss options for the county's short- and long-term jail needs and Board Chair Dick Mattson said that the potential cooperation with Benton County fits as one of those options.

"We're not committed to anything at this point," Mattson said. "This would be a good chance to see what opportunities are out there and if this could be something that could benefit both of us."

Commissioner Pat Sawatzke said that, with staffing costs, the average cost of housing a prisoner in Wright County is $91 a day. By housing prisoners at Benton County for $55 a day, the county could save more money now and have more time to make a final decision on what direction to go for the county's future. The board unanimously approved meeting with the Benton County officials.


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