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Prairie Justice Center security enhancements taking shape

WORTHINGTON -- One project got underway this week and others are in the pipeline in an effort to increase security at Worthington's Prairie Justice Center.

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Workers prepare the floor as part of the new security booth being installed this week at Worthington's Prairie Justice Center. The booth is expected to be operating on Monday. (Tim Middagh / The Globe)

WORTHINGTON - One project got underway this week and others are in the pipeline in an effort to increase security at Worthington’s Prairie Justice Center.

A new security booth on the north, court wing of the PJC is being installed this week and will be operational by Monday.

Nobles County Sheriff Kent Wilkening said the courts side of the PJC has been getting busier and busier over the years. The new, approximately $143,000 screening station will allow personnel to better control the traffic.

“It will allow us to screen people coming into the court side of the building,” Wilkening said.

Beginning Monday, individuals wanting to gain access to the court side will be required to walk through the screening station - double glass doors with metal detection technology that unlock when given a green light.

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If an item on a person sets off the metal detector, the signal will turn red. In that scenario, the individual will be instructed to remove possible items from their person that caused it to set off and place them in a collection tray in the screening area. The person will gain admittance upon receiving the green light.

Individuals must enter the screening booth one at a time and will not be allowed to carry any food or drink, Wilkening added.

One full-time Nobles County Sheriff’s Deputy will be stationed at the security booth during PJC operating hours to control entry. A jail staffer will provide courtroom security.

“It should go very smooth,” Wilkening said.

Wilkening said other changes as a result of the new screening booth include locking personal belongings in lockers before being screened.

“Cell phones have not been allowed in the courtrooms for quite some time and we’re going to ask people not to bring them into that side of the building,” Wilkening added.

 

Wilkening said the sheriff’s office did have a portable metal detector to control traffic into the courtroom for hearings on higher-profile cases, but the new security booth will provide permanent screening.

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Wilkening believes Nobles County will be the fourth of 15 counties within Minnesota’s Fifth Judicial District to have a metal detection security booth. Other counties include Lyon, Redwood and Blue Earth.

The PJC will soon receive other security enhancements, thanks to a $21,310 Safe and Secure Courthouse Initiative Grant from the State Court Administrator’s Office. The Nobles County Board of Commissioners also approved contributing $21,310 to the 50/50 matching grant.

Wilkening said security enhancements covered by grant funding include a more secure service window and relocation of emergency “panic” buttons at the court administration and community corrections offices. The emergency buttons will also be relocated in the courtrooms to make them more accessible to courtroom personnel in an emergency situation.

According to Nobles County Administrator Tom Johnson, the architect for the service window projects met with staff Tuesday morning and should be ready to receive bids from contractors beginning next week.

“We’re hoping within a week or two we can get bids back and we can make a decision,” Johnson said.

All security enhancement projects should be complete yet this year, he added.

In talking with other sheriff’s offices from across the state, Wilkening said, the security improvements Nobles County will be making seem similar to how other counties are spending grant dollars.

“Nobles County is probably in a lot better shape than some of the other counties because we have a newer facility - so we have cameras already in here and did have the panic buttons, but there was just a few things that we need to update and change,” he added.

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Nobles County began evaluating the current state of its security at the PJC in 2015, when counties within the Fifth Judicial District converged at a joint meeting in Cottonwood County.

“They were asking each county to go back and establish a courthouse security committee and then we were to go back and look at things,” he said.

The committee, which meets on a monthly basis, identified the security improvements that will be made. Having a formal committee was a requirement to be considered for grant funding, Wilkening added.

The Nobles County Sheriff’s Office requested $215,000 from the Safe and Secure Courthouse Initiative Grant, but with only $1 million available and 57 out of 59 counties receiving funding, there was not enough to grant the county’s request.

The intent with requesting $215,000 was to cover the cost of all identified security enhancements, which included the security booth, Wilkening said.

“We were hoping to get the full amount to cover everything, and that didn’t happen, but it was to get us up with other regional centers,” said Wilkening about the decision to proceed with the security booth regardless.

Because of this week’s installation of the security booth, any individual needing to gain access today or Thursday to the court-side of the PJC should enter through door “T,” located on the northwest end of the building.

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