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Winona County Jail 02

A Winona County Jail inmate lies in bed during a tour of the facilities in October.

The Winona County Board unanimously approved a short-term agreement Tuesday to address the overflow of inmates in custody at the Winona County Jail.

The interagency service agreement, which guarantees Winona County space in the Houston County Jail for a minimum of 15 inmates, isn’t new.

Winona County has been transporting inmates to the Houston County Jail for the past three years under a similar agreement.

According to Winona County administrator Ken Fritz, on average the county rents 15 to 20 beds a day in the Houston County Jail for inmates who can’t be held locally.

According to the terms of the agreement, Winona County will pay approximately $825 a day or $5,775 a week for the first 15 inmates detained at the Houston County Jail.

Fritz said the county pays this regardless of whether or not those beds are filled.

Winona County will be charged $55 a day for every additional inmate.

While the majority of the agreement will remain unchanged from previous years, Fritz said it does include new language allowing Houston County to charge a rate of $100 per day for inmates who require “special supervision needs.”

An inmate requiring frequent well-being checks or disciplinary segregation would require special supervision according to the agreement.

The county will discuss a long-term agreement during a meeting with Wabasha, Goodhue and Houston County officials on Feb. 19.

Fritz said the purpose of the meeting is to discuss whether or not it would be possible to transport inmates to jails in neighboring counties with excess capacity.

According to county records, sheriffs Rodney L. Bartsh of Wabash County and Mark Inglett of Houston have expressed interest in entering into a long-term agreement to house inmates from Winona.

In a letter to Winona County, Inglett wrote that the Houston County Jail could reasonably hold as many as 40 inmates from Winona County, while Bartsh indicated Wabasha could accommodate as many as 25 of Winona County’s inmates.

Fritz said the discussion should inform the county’s decision on how to address the Winona County Jail’s deficiencies.

Last September, the Minnesota Department of Corrections announced that as of Sept. 30, 2021, the Winona County Jail would no longer be authorized to hold inmates.

“Due to numerous deficiencies noted throughout this letter and in the most recent inspection reports, and the lack of adequate options to address these deficiencies,” the DOC memo read, “the Department of Corrections has determined the next course of action to be a ‘sunset authorization.’”

The sunset authorization, which comes after with DOC regulations, puts the county on notice that it has three years to address the substandard facility.

According to Fritz, the Winona County Jail Advisory Committee is expected to present its findings and recommendations to the county board later this month.

He said several options are currently being discussed.

Fritz said the first option would be to do nothing and allow the jail to close. In this scenario, a long-term agreement with neighboring counties would be essential. People taken into custody by law enforcement would have to be transported directly to the nearest jail.

Another option being considered is constructing a 72-hour holding facility where inmates could be held temporarily for court appearances.

Finally, the county could spring for a Class 3 or 4 facility, where inmates could be held for 90 or 365 days, respectively.

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Tobias Mann covers crime and government in Winona County. He can be reached at 507-453-3522 or at tobias.mann@winonadailynews.com

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