GRAND RAPIDS, MN– The Itasca County jail needs a new facility and the cost could be in the tens of millions of dollars.
This comes after a letter sent in 2017 from the state Department of Corrections saying the jail no longer complies with state standards.
That same letter said they have to upgrade or be out of the building by September 1st, 2021.
Itasca County Sheriff Vic Williams says, “We’ve been over-occupied. We’ve been housing out to other counties and we needed to do something to address our jail needs.”
A task force has since been assembled to find a solution.
Currently, the task force is looking into sites where they can build a jail from the ground up.
Williams says the way it’s proposed right now a new facility will allow for more accommodations.
“We hope to include mental health provisions. Where we would have some mental health housing that’s it” says, Williams.
Residents have questioned why the county can’t revitalize the existing jail.
Itasca County resident Charlene Nelson says, “We could fix the one that’s there, that was constructed when it was built to be expandable.”
Sheriff Williams explains the need for a new facility is because the existing layout makes it out of date and makes it harder for supervisors to watch prisoners.
Williams says, “The linear jails are going out and aren’t going to be used. You look at the new modular style jail where you sit at a focal point, where the jailer or the corrections officer can look at multiple jail cells all at one time.”
But some residents say they want more transparency from their local government and the task force after some say they were kicked out of a task force meeting Tuesday.
Nelson who was at the meeting says, “Officials were averting eye contact. They wouldn’t even look at us; wouldn’t respond.”
Sheriff Williams says due to certain laws the task force meetings aren’t open to the public.
“These meetings are a workgroup, that is designed in order to gather facts. It’s not subject to the open meeting laws due to the fact we do not have a quorum of board members.”
Sheriff Williams says if the courthouse is moved into the new building, it would be additional costs.