County jail facing overcrowding problem

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 13, 2002

If Mower County uses all of the out-county jail beds it has contracted for the next 12 months, that will amount to an additional $550,000 of taxpayers' monies.

"That's a pile of cash," observed Ray Tucker, 2nd District county commissioner at Tuesday's meting of the Mower County Board.

It's also a necessity born of over-crowding in the Mower County Jail.

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Mower County Sheriff Barry J. Simonson and Chief Deputy Terese Amazi won the county board's approval to contract with Mitchell County, Iowa and Steele County for additional jail beds.

The Mitchell County, Iowa contract will guarantee Mower County 12 beds for $40 each per day.

The Steele County contract will guarantee Mower County another 15 jail beds at the rate of $69 a day.

The Steele County Jail beds will be available sometime in 2004, when a new regional jail is constructed at Owatonna.

The Mitchell County, Iowa beds are in use right now due to over-crowding in the Mower County Jail located in Austin.

Simonson and Amazi came to Tuesday's county board meeting to ask for the commissioners' immediate attention to jail over- crowding issues.

"Our situation has been changing dramatically," said Simonson. Licensed by the Minnesota Department of Corrections for 45 jail beds, the local county jail has seen as many as 57 prisoners incarcerated recently.

According to Simonson, the local average jail population was at the allowable level only a minimum of time in the last 12 months.

Thirteen prisoners were sent to the Mitchell County Jail at Osage, Iowa, and housed at the rate of $50 per day.

When the new 100-bed Steele County Jail is completed, it will help relieve an anticipated continuing jail overload problem in Austin.

Meanwhile, Simonson and Amazi are awaiting the results of a jail consultant's study to determine how Mower County's figure incarceration needs can be solved.

Garry Ellingson, 5th district county commissioner, said the anticipated new jail coming to Freeborn County also could be a future option for excess prisoners in the Mower County Jail.

Presently, the DOC has approved of Mower County's housing prisoners at the Osage, Iowa jail built a year ago.

According to Amazi, prisoners transported to Osage are those waiting future court dates.

Patrick Oman, Mower County Attorney, said Mower County jail administrator Bob Roche keeps his office apprised of the number of prisoners and their status as far as awaiting court dates goes. Also, Roche informs the Mower County Third Judicial District Court judges with the same information.

When Tucker tallied the anticipated costs to transport prisoners to Osage and Steele County in the future, the $550,000 figure surprised everyone in the meeting room.

"It's a cost of doing business," said Simonson.

"It's another unfunded mandate. That's what it is," said Len Miller, 4th District county commissioner and chairman of the county board.

Lee Bonorden can be contacted at 434-2232 or by e-mail at