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Counties eye drug facility


FERGUS FALLS, Minn. - Drug use is often cited as one of the top reasons most counties in west-central Minnesota are short on jail space.

But more treatment will be a bigger help in slowing that trend than more jails, said Clay County Commissioner Kevin Campbell.

"There has to be a better way than all these counties building all these cells," he said.

Officials from Clay County and nine other west-central Minnesota counties met Tuesday to receive a study examining the feasibility of a regional jail that would offer drug treatment and house overflow prisoners.

While most officials at the meeting agreed more drug treatment is needed, the draft study still leaves much to be resolved.


"We're in the question-and-answer stage," Campbell said.

Commissioned as part of the effort to find a use for the Fergus Falls Regional Treatment Center, the state-funded $25,000 study suggests an 80-bed secure jail for inmates that would be connected to a 30-bed rehab center.

Treatment would be available in the jail. While the 30-bed facility would be designed for those voluntarily seeking treatment, it could also hold the type of low-risk inmates who qualify for work release, said Ted Redmond of BKV Group, the Minneapolis firm that authored the study.

The joint facility proposed in the study would cost about $16.1 million if it's built at the RTC, which is expected to close next year. If it were built at an undetermined new site, the cost was estimated at $15 million.

The study estimates that by 2008, using current jail sizes, the 10 counties would have the potential to ship 79 inmates to the facility. By 2015, the study projects that figure to rise to 162 inmates.

But the number of inmates who would be prime targets for substance abuse treatment was only estimated to be 14 in 2008 and 17 in 2015. The rest of the projected need is inmates counties wouldn't have room for in their own jails.

The study only counted inmates in jail on drug charges as needing treatment, though officials at the meeting said many being held for other offenses also need help.

Estimating how many people in jail on charges unrelated to drugs need treatment would have been nothing but a guess, Redmond said.


"It's not a number I can project with any degree of accuracy, so I didn't project it," he said.

Two sheriffs, Tom Larson of Pope County and Brian Schlueter of Otter Tail County, said they don't need a place to send extra inmates, but they support the idea of a secure treatment center.

"All our fifth-degree offenders are basically dopers that need help," Larson said.

Wilkin County Commissioner Stephanie Miranowski also supports the concept of a treatment center, but wants to see it in the former St. Francis Hospital in Breckenridge, Minn., which is being torn down next month.

Pope County Commissioner Robert McCrory, who is chairman of the county group, wants to see if the center can get any state or federal money to help pay for its construction.

Redmond said it is unclear if money would be available.

"That's sort of the $64 million question, maybe the $16 million question," he said.

McCrory said a smaller group of county officials will meet next month to see who is interested in further study of a regional facility.


"There's no use in bouncing along saying, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah,' and getting to the end and saying, 'No, no, no,'" he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535

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