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Jail process on hold until spring

HOUGHTON — Houghton County jail will wait until the spring to find out if one potential site for the Houghton County Jail is feasible.

The county is in talks with the owner of a 23-acre parcel off of Evergreen Street in Houghton behind the former Sears building for an option to purchase the property. The county would look to purchase five to seven acres. The option would extend until the matter can go to the public for a vote.

Commissioner Roy Britz, Commissioner Gretchen Janssen and Administrator Eric Forsberg met with the owner last week.

“The owner is advising he’ll work with the county any way he can to help with an option to purchase,” Britz said.

The county has sought voter approval for a new jail or addition several times, most recently in 2018. No election date has been set for a next millage proposal.

The options recommended by the county’s jail task force last year included a 110-bed jail, district court and sheriff’s office on county-owned land across from the courthouse, as well as building on land elsewhere in Houghton, which could allow for the construction of a new courthouse on the site in the future.

U.P. Engineers & Architects suggested waiting until spring to take soil borings and see what the site looks like without snow cover, Britz said.

Britz said community members had also provided solid feedback on moving to a site where the county could expand in the future, possibly including a new courthouse.

Britz asked the board to hold off until the spring. He said the additional time could give the county time to review what a county jail would look like in the future.

The state’s recent Mich​igan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration​​ recommended changes to sentencing guidelines, which could affect the size of the jail population.

Recommendations include giving officers more discretion to use appearance tickets as an alternative to arrest and jail, as well as incentivizing alternatives to jail for people with behavioral health issues.

“I think we can slow it down and see what the state’s going to do,” Britz said.

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