From: Jerry Papenfuss
Winona needs a new jail. Most people will agree.
To the credit of Winona County commissioners, county staff and an active citizen’s jail committee, there is a lot of information gathering and discussion taking place. The Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee, which meets monthly, is making progress on keeping people out of jail.
I don’t believe the average Winona County taxpayer is paying attention. One of the recommendations of the jail committee was an active information campaign to bring taxpayers up to date on the jail progress. This is a big decision, costing millions of dollars, and will affect the county for the next 50 years.
I am not a criminal expert. I look at these challenges as a conservative taxpayer and a person concerned about people’s wellbeing.
What bothers me is that too many of the people involved in the process want to build a big jail when, nationwide, there is much effort being taken to keep people out of jail.
Here are the facts, as I understand them:
• The county will be able to buy the Walz property next door, but may have to pay market price for the new property.
• The new jail will be attached but separate from the present jail facility.
• The present jail facility will be renovated and will continue to be used.
• A juvenile detention facility, much needed in the area, is being considered.
Taxpayers should be concerned. The new jail could cost $20 million or more. Remodeling of the old jail could be $2 million. These are rough estimates. No dollar amounts have been talked about for a juvenile detention facility.
A bigger building would cost more to maintain and require more staff. Electric and heating bills would be larger. Longer range, there will be more major maintenance.
What I’m suggesting is to build a smaller jail. Use the extra money to expand on the programs being implemented by the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee.
Mental health seems to be a big issue. Why not outsource more dollars to organizations like Hiawatha Valley Mental Health?
Overflow could happen in an emergency, but the Wabasha jail is just up the road. Some overflow is better than too many beds standing empty. It’s a fact that both county officials from Wabasha and Houston have said their counties built bigger jails than were necessary. Their jails are very new.
Let’s move forward as rapidly as possible. Let’s include a juvenile detention facility. Let’s have a public discussion starting now. Let’s have some open meetings around the county. Let’s work to keep people out of jail and from becoming repeat offenders.