Wasteful. The word comes to mind this week as we learned - along with Martin County commissioners - that the county is housing juvenile and mentally ill defendants in places as far away as Willmar, Brainerd and Duluth. This can translate into five-hour car rides, paying for gas and transport officers, in order to get defendants to court hearings here in Fairmont. Some of these might last five minutes.
Ugh. Only government can do things that are this dumb.
This is because there are, of course, special requirements for incarcerating the mentally ill or juveniles. Does the state allow any flexibility or work-arounds so that counties are not saddled with massive costs? Of course not. And what are counties to do? Consider the lawsuits they would face if something unfortunate happened to a defendant not held in a way deemed proper by authorities? Can you say "million-dollar payout"?
The court system could conduct hearings by interactive television, but defense attorneys and judges have objected, saying they want defendants in the courtroom. We can understand, given our system that puts an emphasis on the rights of the accused. It would be a mistake for any of us to take lightly these rights which, once lost, could not easily be regained.
What can be done? Our state lawmakers could take note of all of this and enact reforms. Courts could consider releasing more inmates to await hearings. The county will have to keep weighing transport costs versus alternatives (building a new jail?), and continue to seek closer sites to house the inmates in question. We have our doubts and concerns about all of these options.