Citizens task force, cost estimates part of jail plan

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Bill Fink, a member of the task force behind a 2010 jail proposal, addresses the Houghton County Board at a committee of the whole meeting to discuss jail solutions Monday. Fink said he had voted against the 2018 proposal over concerns about expandability. The board intends to adopt a plan Tuesday for a new community task force and cost estimates for new jail options.

HOUGHTON — The Houghton County Board will consider recommendations at its meeting Tuesday to get cost estimates for potential replacements to the Houghton County Jail and form a citizen task force to discuss options for the jail.

The board met Monday as a committee of the whole to discuss options for moving forward on additions to or replacements for the 56-year-old jail, which has been beset by poor conditions and overcrowding. Voters narrowly rejected an $11 million, 20-year bond proposal to build a jail addition behind the county courthouse last fall.

As outlined Monday, the board will ask Karin Cooper, architect of the 2018 addition, to prepare cost estimates for various options including renovating and operating Camp Kitwen, a new complex, or a standalone jail addition similar to the 2018 proposal.

The county will also set up a community task force with representatives from every municipality. Other stakeholder groups will also be represented, including two law enforcement groups besides the sheriff’s office, the League of Women Voters and Copper Country Mental Health. The County Board and three members of the Sheriff’s Department will also be part of the group.

“I think the message did get through to a lot of voters obviously that we have a crisis, and we do,” Commissioner Tom Tikkanen said. “We can’t sit idly by. Hopefully the community is going to be motivated to resolve some differences and reach some compromises as we go forward.”

After the November election, county residents told Tikkanen said residents told him they wanted more input into the proposal. Some also told him the possibility of Camp Kitwen hadn’t been adequately considered. Kitwen, a minimum-security prison camp near Painesdale, has been vacant since the state Department of Corrections closed it in 2009.

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