$17 million justice center to address security, resource concerns

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THIEF RIVER FALLS, Minn. (Valley News Live) It was a contentious decision to raise taxes in Pennington County for the new facility, but law enforcement says there are dire security risks and wasted resources that will be fixed with this new building.

"It's going to make things a lot safer for everybody," said Pennington County Sheriff Ray Kuznia.

Kuznia said a new building is going to fix a lot of old problems.

"Just a few weeks ago we had one run," Kuznia said.

Currently, inmates are escorted across a busy to street to the courthouse.

"A lot of them have serious crimes, they know they're going to prison. Therefore, they'll do anything to escape," Kuznia said.

He said they were fortunate they had two deputies working to transfer about a dozen inmates.

"I'm thankful we had two deputies with, so, the other one was able to chase the one that took off running, down," Kuznia said.

Security concerns aside, one of the biggest problems is the cost. Pennington County deputies have to drive overflow inmates to different jails all over the state. It's estimated to cost over $500,000 a year to house inmates elsewhere.

In December alone, their 40 person jail was so full, they had over '500 inmate days' in other county jails. The sheriff said in his 10 deputy department he's had as many as 4 deputies driving hours across the state to shuttle inmates.

"I'm going to have deputies back on the road where they're supposed to be and not running as taxi services across the state and picking up inmates," Kuznia said.

The new state of the art jail's capacity will be 90. Right now jail administrators say a vast majority of the people that are locked up are in for drugs. Here, it's mostly meth, they're beginning to see an uptick in opioids.

"So, by doing what we're doing, in the long run, it's going to save Pennington County tax money," Kuznia said.

Over capacity jails are an issue across the region. Jail administrators said it's likely dependent on how drug enforcement laws change in the future that will dictate how full this $17 million facility will get.

The building is behind on construction. They're hoping it will be open and operational by May or June.