An increase in population has stirred rises in crime, rendering the Williams County Jail flooded with regional criminals.
Sheriff Scott Busching said the multi-million dollar jail was full in Williston shortly after construction was completed in 2008. The facility was projected to hold prisoner growth for 50 years, but now law enforcement needs to expand it or erect a new facility to remedy spacing issues.
In February, Busching and Commissioner Dan Kalil met with officials from Burke, Divide, Mountrail and McKenzie counties along with a representative from Sen. John Hoeven’s office to discuss facility options.
The Williams County Jail, consisting of 131 beds and several portables, receives prisoners throughout the region on a weekly basis.
Between January 2012 and 2014, McKenzie reported $526,150 in total housing and transportation costs of inmates; Divide had $178,154 in costs; Mountrail had $96,454; Burke had $31,443; and Williams had $48,850, according to meeting reports.
The cost of a bed per day averaged $76.10, according to reports. The average bed days are increasing due to the backlog in the judicial system.
The ICON Architectural Group gave a presentation to officials, estimating the cost of a new jail.
In planning for the future, a new building with 104 beds, was estimated at $11.4 million, according to reports. A 25-year mortgage with 4.75 percent interest was considered at $782,656.
The commissioners agreed to examine committing to a regional jail concept managed by a single county — not a governing board, according to reports. The agreement calls for the commissioners to determine the total number of beds needed for either a single facility or perhaps two smaller regional facilities, as well as begin building a budget to determine each counties financial commitment. Commissioners are scheduled to present their findings at the next meeting held in March.
On Tuesday, Busching addressed the Williams County Commission saying it will take about two years to construct a new jail and decisions need to be made.
“You plan for a maximum possible and add 60 percent — then you might be close,” Busching said.
Kalil agreed and said much of the decision making is going to rest on other counties.
A lack of mental health facilities are also having a negative effect on law enforcement; deputies made four trips last week to transport prisoners to the North Dakota State Hospital in Jamestown, Busching said. Servicing mental health issues plus an expanded or new jail is bound to cause the sheriff’s office to hire additional employees.
“My crystal ball is a little foggy ... but we can double our beds without doubling employees,” Busching said. “Brick and mortar ain’t cheap but there’s an end of it.”