A good education helps keep incarceration rates in check.

As the school year nears an end, a statement made by a speaker at a corrections conference that I attended a few years ago comes back to me. I can’t tell you who the corrections official was but what he said remains crystal clear.

    That statement: “A child that has not learned to read by the time that it leaves the third grade is 67 times more likely to end up in the corrections system.” That means end up in jail.

    The key to the statement is the word “times,” which is not to be confused with “percent.” There is a lot of difference between those two terms.

    So, if you know a good elementary school teacher, or any good teacher for that matter, let them know that you appreciate the work that they do. After all a good, basic education is the key to becoming a contributing citizen in adult life.

    On the subject of corrections, I want to pass on some numbers concerning operations of the new Northwest Regional Corrections Center jail that was opened in February 2008:

    • In 2007, the last full year in the old jail, Tri-County Community Corrections (TCCC) spent $431,000 to house prisoners in other jails when it didn’t have room for them in its existing facilities. It was a regular occurrence that TCCC — this is the agency organized by Polk, Norman and Red Lake counties in the mid-1970s to jointly operate a jail and provide probation programming — often had to house 20 or more of its prisoners in other jails.

    • In 2011, $373,249 was received from other counties, from the State of Minnesota and from the federal government for housing prisoners that these agencies brought to TCCC when they didn’t have room to keep them in their facilities.

    • The combination of eliminating one expense and gaining revenue from another source — resulting in a positive of more than $800,000 — has effectively reduced the annual $1.34 million payment required to retire the $17.5 million in jail construction bonds to about $535,000.

    • Polk County is now already one-fourth of the way through the 20-year schedule for repayment of those bonds. The lease payment that TCCC makes to Polk County for use of the jail covers the bond payment.

    Having the jail under the same roof as district court system, which is in the adjoining Polk County Justice Center, makes for a model of efficiency in that prisoners are kept in a secure environment from the time that they leave a jail cell to the point where they step into a courtroom.

    In the past, Polk County Sheriff’s deputies had to transport prisoners from the old jail to court appearances in the then courthouse (now the Government Center). During busy periods, three and four deputies at a time were tied up with those duties for most, if not all of the day.

    The $6.7 million needed to construct the Justice Center was paid for in cash from funds that had been accrued over several years as Polk County commissioners prepared for a major building project that they knew was going to be needed. Thus, there is no debt against the Justice Center.

    A lasting benefit of the Northwest Regional Corrections Center project is that the three county partners in TCCC are set for virtually any foreseeable jail needs for the next 40 years. The Polk County Justice Center provides the same benefit for the County Attorney’s Office, the public defenders, the District Court, Court Administration and for the TCCC probation and administrative offices all of which are located there.

    Thus, the net of $535,000 a year for debt retirement — after the elimination of the past expense of having to buy bed space in other jails and the addition of the revenue generated by the per diem income from the sale of beds to other entities — becomes a pretty good deal.

    That is especially so, when you consider that if nothing had been done about addressing the bed shortages and other problems associated with the old facilities, TCCC would still be on the hook for the $431,000 expense — and that would be more by now — that it paid for beds in other jails in 2007.

    Thoughts expressed in this column are those of the author and are not necessarily a reflection of the opinions of the other members of the Polk County Board.