Commissioners make plans to save dollars for new jail

The jail currently only holds 194 inmates, and Sheriff Tom Bensley says it's a number that is exceeded often.

The discussion of whether to build a new jail in Grand Traverse County has been up for debate for a while, but county leaders say the need is greater now than ever before.

On Wednesday, commissioners sat down to talk about how to save money for the big project during a county budget meeting.

County Administrator David Benda says that a special committee was formed ten years ago who recommended that the jail upgrade to 250 beds. The jail currently only holds 194, and Sheriff Tom Bensley says it's a number that is exceeded often.

"We've been experiencing overcrowding at the jail for some time," said Bensley. "That has caused us to board prisoners out at a cost to other county jails and also release some inmates prior to their scheduled release date."

Bensley says the cost to house an inmate at another county jail is $30.00 per day. He says that $12,000 has already been spent in 2014 sending inmates to Leelanau County and Charlevoix County.

Bensley says the current facility also causes problems for putting the inmates in their proper areas and classifications. He says they've had a large amount of female inmates, as well as inmates who have committed more serious crimes.

"The classification system that we have to follow does cause problems with this facility," said Bensley.

The commissioners are now getting ready to form a committee that will help choose where a new jail should be built. Some of the options being discussed are rebuilding the jail in it's current location, or building on Lafranier Road next to the Grand Traverse County Health Department.

"It's all going to depend on when we can get the money together and how fast we can get our finances in order to set aside money for a jail," said Benda.

A team made up of Benda, Bensley, the jail administrator, and county commissioner will also be traveling to Colorado for a special training seminar in August that is completely funded by the National Institute of Corrections.

"We're going to have a group of people going to the Planning of New Institutions Program in Colorado in August," said Benda. "It's a full week learning experience on how to do this correctly."

The county is also considering whether or not to have a regional jail that multiple counties could use and share costs. Benda says that since Grand Traverse County is the closest to building a new jail, that any possible regional facility would come out of that project.

"There's a lot of things to consider," said Bensley. "Who's in charge? How much would it cost? Where's it going to be located? Many, many questions."

Benda says a regional jail is easy to talk about, but that it's a complicated concept and that keeping things separate while still renting bed space might be easier.

"In Michigan it's become a lot easier just to build the space," said Benda. "When you build a jail it's a 50-year building, you want to build it for at least 20-years till the debt is paid off, and then you're going to have extra space so you rent those beds out to other counties that need them."

According to Benda, the estimated cost for a new 250-bed jail is $25-million.