Not a bad place as jails go

Published 9:02 am Thursday, June 10, 2010


Let’s not forget: Criminals are people, too. This is Minnesota and the state mistreats no one.

The proof is being built in downtown Austin.

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No longer will offender families have to worry about their sons and daughters, grandchildren, parents and grandparents, goofy neighbors who kept to themselves and weird uncles never invited back to children’s birthday parties.

Even that brother-in-law, who drives a new car and keeps looking out the window whenever he hears a siren.

The family attorney who keeps putting off getting that profit-and-loss statement you’ve been asking about and the gardener who plays poker in the backyard with a deck of Social Security cards, Minnesota driver licenses and Medical Assistance cards.

When (if?) they’re caught breaking the law, they will all be taken care of with the best in free lodging, nutritional meals, health and dental care, job training, cable television, a fitness center and a chaplain to pray for their souls when it comes time to be paroled.

Construction of the new Mower County Jail and Justice Center is on schedule.

I was there a week ago with Austin Noon Lions Club members. One of our own, Mike Ankeny, a Mower County commissioner, took us on a tour of the facilities in downtown Austin. People, this is a nice place they’re building for offenders. I think prisoners will be getting taxpayers’ $27 million worth. Plus a few million more each year to operate the new Graybar Hotel.

Commissioner Ankeny had help in conducting the tour. Craig Oscarson, county coordinator, did most of the talking. Mower County Sheriff Terese Amazi answered questions, too.

I remember hearing the county coordinator say at one point, “The county commissioners made a conscious decision” about something dealing with the new jail and justice center.

That will be reassuring for taxpayers, because there are more than a few of them who think they were semi-conscious when they made decisions regarding the jail and justice center.

The cells are 7-by-10. There’s double-bunking. The place is air-conditioned via geothermal wells. Prisoners do not have Internet access or television in their cells and they do not — Repeat! — Prisoners do not have their own basketball court.

Tsk,  tsk. It’s a half-court with only one basket.

There are private corridors for everyone. For the judges, of course. For offenders, witnesses, jurors, court administration staff and for people who like to wander corridors like mall-walkers.

The last time they remodeled the Mower County Courthouse a miscalculation had judges using the same corridor as offenders being escorted from the jail. I’m guessing the genius that thought that up went on to work for BP in the Gulf of Mexico.

The tour guides pointed out the high level of sophistication in the new facilities. Video surveillance is everywhere, electronic this and that and an emergency generator to provide three days of electricity if a sustained power outage occurs. God forbid a prisoner miss an episode of “Dog the Bounty Hunter” or “Fugitive Chronicles” on cable TV.

A lot of emphasis was made about the ability to expand the facilities if needed. It’s a 128-bed jail now, but the potential exists to double the size in the future.

Three-fourths of a city block to the north will be left undeveloped. No trees, no shrubs, no landscaping. Not even any sod. Just grass seed.

Guess whom I nominate to cut the grass?

All in all, it’s an impressive-looking facility from the inside, but it just didn’t seem like an intimidating place where punishment will be administered. More like grounding a misbehaving teenager by sending him to his own room. Duh. The quality of life in a modern jail is far better than anything an offender previously experienced.

I think the tour guides should emphasize that this ain’t a Holiday Inn with room service. Otherwise offenders will get the idea that it’s time well spent going to jail in between crimes.

It’s the Minnesota Department of Corrections’ fault, of course. They are the tail that wags the Minnesota Legislature.

Sooner or later, the DOC is going to realize, some sons-of-birches can’t be rehabilitated and turning the other cheek to crime in the name of restorative justice just gives criminals another target.

Take a tour and see for yourself. Be sure to wipe your feet at the door. It’s a classy joint.