Months away from the completion of a new jail years in the making, officials in Houston County have posed an extraordinary question: Should they even open it?
Even though it cost tens of millions of dollars, letting it sit empty would save the money it would cost to staff it. And these days, the extra cells aren't exactly in demand, in Houston County or in plenty of other places. Falling crime rates and a jail-building boom coincided to produce an unprecedented surplus of jail beds in many of the state's counties.
"You wouldn't open a motel expecting 50 percent occupancy or less," said Jack Miller, chairman of the board of commissioners in the far southeastern Minnesota county. More
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