New Prison Could Be the Best Option for Beltrami County

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Sept. 23—BEMIDJI—Building a new prison could be the best option for Beltrami County, according to the company that released its recent

Prison Needs Assessment and Feasibility Study

for the Beltrami County Prison.

Justice Planners LLC, which led the study, gave its formal recommendation at a public hearing with the Beltrami County Board on Thursday, Sept. 22, during a presentation on several possible futures for the current prison.

The province originally submitted a proposal for the study in December 2021,

after the prison faced challenges over the years, including severe housing capacity limitations, an inability for the prison to meet Department of Corrections design standards, and an increase in the need for mental health resources and chemical dependence.

Opened in 1989, the prison has undergone a number of renovation projects in the past. However, recent DOC inspections in Minnesota revealed deteriorating conditions at the facility, pointing to the lack of storage space, a central control room, proper visiting areas, staff training areas, inmate program areas, and more.

“I really think if you look at this holistically, the best option would be to build a new detention center,” said Alan Richardson, founder and president of Justice Planners.

Richardson and his team came up with this recommendation after carefully examining seven alternatives for the future of the prison, including: doing nothing, reducing the prison to a 36-hour prison, renovating the prison, expanding the prison, building a new detention center, building a regional detention center or closing the prison completely.

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Each of these has its associated costs, some higher than others, which can lead to an increase in the county’s annual taxation. These costs range from a $374.7 million increase to build a new facility to a $535.6 million increase to renovate the existing prison.

More detailed information about the alternatives, their advantages, disadvantages and costs can be found on the

county’s webpage dedicated to the prison project.

“That’s a lot of money for each of these options,” Richardson said. “I encourage[the county government]to look not just at the dollar amounts, but also at the impact on staff, inmates and recidivism.”

In addition to the lower overall cost of building a new facility, Richardson explained that designing a new building would also give the county an opportunity to explore how it intends to operate a detention center and what its priorities are.

“You would have the opportunity to say, ‘This is how we really want to work. Now let’s build a facility to accommodate that,'” Richardson said.

Several county commissioners expressed support for the option to build a new detention center, citing both Richardson’s points and the lower tax impact.

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“The most logical decision is to go for a new facility. It’s a lot better for everyone, our staff, our inmates, everyone,” said District 1 Commissioner Craig Gaasvig. “It’s also not that heavy of a tax, I’m in favor of that.”

Other commissioners support the idea of ​​building new as well as some of the other options presented in the study.

“I’m still between expanding and building new,” said District 4 Commissioner Tim Sumner. “This isn’t easy. I don’t know if anyone likes prisons, but it’s something we have to provide to have a safe community.”

The commissioners all agreed that building a regional detention center was no longer realistic, as it would require partnerships with other nearby counties that have shown no interest in the idea.

“There are no partners who want to be part of a regional site,” said District 3 Commissioner Richard Anderson, “it just doesn’t make sense.”

In addition to the Commissioners’ views, the public was also welcome to comment on the project during the hearing.

Community member John Henningsgaard shared his thoughts with the board, noting that the prison population forecasts used for the project showed a never-ending increase.

“Increasing incarceration is not inevitable, and in many ways prison size inversely reflects the quality of our society,” Henningsgaard said. “I ask that you do everything in your power to minimize the population growth in our prison.”

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Henningsgaard stressed the importance of working to reduce incarceration and reduce the racial inequalities found within the criminal justice system, and encouraged the board to keep these things in mind when considering the future of the prison.

“We’re all here because we’re doing our best to improve our community,” Henningsgaard said. “My intent is to ask you to consider justice.”

The importance of public input has often been emphasized by provincial officials, who recently extended the public comment period to October 31.

To facilitate this, the district administration will hold two meetings in October where community members can share their thoughts.

The first will be a town hall meeting on Thursday, October 13, and the second will be a public hearing to be held during the regular city council meeting on Tuesday, October 18.

More information and a

online survey

can be found on the

the county’s website.

All of these options will provide vital public input to the county government on how best to proceed.

“We still welcome public comments,” Sumner said. “It’s really important that we get as much public feedback as possible.”

The final decision on the provincial prison project is expected on November 15.

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