Big changes coming to Winona County Jail

The Winona County Jail may be forced to shut down because of safety concerns.

The Minnesota Department of Corrections has ordered the Winona County Sheriff’s Department to shut down its jail by 2021 unless substantial changes are made.

The jail was originally built in 1978, but since then, it’s started to fall apart.

Chief Deputy Jeff Mueller has worked in the Winona County Sheriff’s Department for 20 years.

“There’s assaults on staff, assaults between inmates on a fairly regular basis. We’ve stretched it out as long as we can, and the department of corrections finally gave us the letter that said you have to do something now,” Mueller said.

He’s seen the county’s jail deteriorate over the years.

“Even just by the design of our jail, it’s less safe than the new-designed jails.” Mueller said.

In addition to safety, the jail just isn’t up to code.

“There’s no sprinkler system in it, it’s not handicap accessible, is it ADH compliant, space needs is the major thing,” Mueller said.

Because of the lack of space, some inmates are being housed in another jail.

“We’re currently contracting with Houston County Sheriff’s Department where we contract 15 beds right now from the Houston County Jail,” Mueller said.

Without changes, the county will be forced to ship off all of its inmates.

“Shipping inmates out is a security concern.” Mueller said.

Mueller said some smaller counties ship out inmates, but it would be challenging for Winona.

“When you’re dealing with 50 to 60 inmates and trying to ship them out, bringing them back for court dates and things like that, the security of our staff, the security of our staff and the security of inmates is something that’s a major concern,” Mueller said.

Mueller thinks if they were able to build a new jail, it would be better for everyone.

“I think we can improve safety, and I think the other thing that we can improve is that with the newer designs of the jail, oftentimes you can accommodate larger number of people with less staff.” Mueller said.

The jail currently holds 78 inmates at full capacity with 24 staff members.

But with a new jail, the department could potentially house twice as many inmates with the same amount of staff.