Discussions begin with county, state for jail partnership

WILLMAR -- A relationship built on a good track record could mean a new partnership between Kandiyohi County and the Minnesota Department of Corrections.

WILLMAR -- A relationship built on a good track record could mean a new partnership between Kandiyohi County and the Minnesota Department of Corrections.

State and county officials met Wednesday morning to discuss the potential to build a model jail facility in Willmar to treat state prisoners for chemical dependency.

Talks were described as being in the "very early stage."

Before any construction happened, "there would be quite an extensive planning process," said County Administrator Wayne Thompson in a telephone interview.

The project could involve expanding the existing Kandiyohi County jail by 150 to 300 beds.


The state would then pay the county a per diem to house state prisoners in the last months or years of incarceration while the prisoner received treatment for chemical dependency.

Staff and services from existing state-operated programs at the Willmar Regional Treatment Center could be tapped to provide the treatment program at the jail.

The Department of Corrections estimates that 85 percent of all state prisoners are chemically dependent or have abused chemicals.

"It's a huge problem," said Thompson, who said a facility to treat those prisoners "is definitely needed.

Kandiyohi County currently has a contract with the Department of Corrections to house 45 prisoners, which brings in about $90,000 a month in revenue to the county.

The state has been very pleased with the jail and the programs that Kandiyohi County offers, said Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, who attended the Wednesday meeting.

"We have an excellent track record with our county jail," he said. "The Department of Corrections is very complimentary of Kandiyohi County."

He said the state is very interested in continuing that relationship and expanding it to include treatment for chemical dependency.


The proposed facility in Willmar reflects a change in philosophy from "warehousing" prisoners to "providing opportunities for them to turn their lives around" before they return to their home communities, Johnson said.

Providing treatment for chemical dependency while prisoners are still in jail, and providing a support system for when they get out of jail, could reduce the chances of them committing new crimes and returning to jail again, said Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, who was also at the meeting. That could mean a long-term cost savings for both counties and the state.

It's possible that the state may financially participate with the county in construction of the additional jail beds

If the project in Willmar proceeds, Juhnke said it could serve as a demonstration, or model, for other facilities in Minnesota and around the nation.

Johnson said the meeting ended with sincere interest from both the state and county to continue exploring the project. He and Juhnke will be writing a letter to the director of the Department of Corrections seeking "guidance and counsel" about how to proceed.

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at or 320-894-9750
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