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State could take over short-term prisoners now housed by counties

WILLMAR -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he wants the state to take over housing "short-term" prisoners from counties.

Doing so would save the state and counties money, said Pawlenty during an interview Tuesday with the West Central Tribune.

Since 2004, as a cost-saving move for the state, counties have been required to house felons who have six months or less remaining on their prison term. Those prisoners are transferred from state prisons to a county to finish their sentences.

The state has been gradually reducing the daily reimbursement rate and currently pays counties about $9 a day.

Counties have objected to the low reimbursement rate, saying it's far below the actual cost of about $55 to $75 a day to house state prisoners.

"It's one of the mandates pushed on counties," said Kandiyohi County Administrator Larry Kleindl.

Pawlenty said he thinks the state could take over housing those prisoners at a cost of $4 million, instead of the $14 million counties say they need.

"If the state can do it cheaper, that would be great," said Kleindl. "That's what we're looking for."

Pawlenty said his administration is in the process of finalizing a proposal to present to legislators.

It's possible that prison space at the privately owned Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton could be used to house short-term prisoners.

Because the state has new jail beds available in Faribault, Pawlenty said the Appleton prison may not be needed as much as in the past. That has Appleton officials concerned. The prison is a major employer in Swift County.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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