Jail averaging 60 inmates, weighing options

The Mower County Jail has averaged about 60 inmates since it opened last December, but the county is looking for ways to increase those numbers by taking on inmates from other counties.

The jail opened Dec. 27, 2010, with 90 inmates — which included females housed in Steele County — but the numbers have steadied out at around 60 inmates at a time, according to a report Sheriff Terese Amazi gave to the county board Tuesday at its board meeting.

After a peak of about 12 female inmates, the jail has averaged a little more than eight females, and that’s where the county board is looking for ways to maximize the space in the jail.

Counties like Steele, Olmsted and Freeborn have tossed around the idea of boarding female inmates elsewhere, and the board is hoping Mower will be the destination if that opportunity arises.

“We have to staff that pod, so we might as well have more guests,” Commissioner Ray Tucker said.

Though the jail is built with a maximum of 128 beds with 38 in the female pod, the jail can only go up to 88 inmates at current staffing levels.

“If we filled that place up, we’d have to add additional staff,” Amazi said.

Currently, the county is holding two male inmates from other counties but no other female inmates.

Overall, Amazi said the jail is operating smoothly.

“It’s working very well,” Amazi said.

However, Amazi said, there have been a few bugs with a microphone malfunctioning in one part of the jail.

If the county begins boarding more female inmates, Amazi said the board would likely need to discuss adjusting its per diem rate.

“I don’t know that we’re competitive at this point,” Amazi said.

Drug costs

After spending $1,000 to dispose of pills from the prescription drugs drop box at the government center, the county has found a way to significantly curb the costs.

Previously, a costly private firm was the county’s only option for disposing of the unused pharmaceuticals, and they didn’t even take the narcotics. Recently, Minnesota Pollution Control approved burners to dispose of excess medical and narcotic drugs at a much cheaper cost.

Amazi and Chief Deputy Mark May drove to Fosston, Minn., to drop off a load. It cost only about $135 for pharmaceutical drugs and about $181 for four years’ worth of seized narcotics.

One is coming online in Rochester and another in Mankato at a later date.

Still, County Attorney Kristen Nelsen said the $1,000 fee was a good decision at the time, because it was the only option. She said it was far cheaper than the cost of one lawsuit had the left over drugs fallen into the hands of a child.

“In the long run, it’s really worth it,” Nelsen said.

Joint dispatch still being discussed

Mower is still in talks about joint dispatch with Goodhue, Wabasha, Winona, Houston, Fillmore, Steele, Rice, Freeborn and Olmsted counties. However, Amazi said the talks are preliminary.

Board curbs dispatch costs

The county board took a small step to curb overtime costs in dispatch.

The county board voted to form an on-call bank of dispatchers to fill in at starting pay rather than paying current employees overtime.

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