Carlton County commissioners get up close look at sample jail cells

The Twin Lakes Township Board of Supervisors and the Carlton City Council have both agreed to schedule public meetings regarding Carlton’s annexation of the preferred jail site near the transportation building.

Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake, left, and Maximum Security Services Inc. owner Jay Seavy talk about the sample jail cells Seavy brough for Lake and other county officials to examine Monday, July 19, 2021. (Jamey Malcomb /

The Carlton County Board of Commissioners and other officials were able to take an inside look at some sample jail cells during a planning meeting for the county’s justice center project Monday, July 19.

Maximum Security Services Inc. in Penrose, Colorado, provided two sample cells — one modular and another prefabricated model — for commissioners to inspect. Modular cells come fully assembled and ready to be connected to the building’s plumbing, while the prefabricated cells come in smaller pieces and are assembled on site. MSSI owner Jay Seavy said while the prefabricated model is less expensive initially, there are added costs with assembly and installation that the modular cells don’t require.

Both Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake and Carlton County Attorney Lauri Ketola expressed concern about a ladder on the cells’ bunk that inmates could use to potentially harm themselves.

The ladders would be a concern, Seavy said, but the cells brought to the meeting Monday were from MSSI’s first generation of cells made in 2003. MSSI is in its seventh generation of cells and prisoners currently use steps made into the cell wall to climb into the bunk.

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The sample jail cells Carlton County officials looked over during their jail planning committee meeting Monday, July 19, 2021, were approximately 90 square feet and included a shower, toilet, sink and small table. (Jamey Malcomb /

Jail administrator and justice center project manager Paul Coughlin said he and Carlton County Property Management Supervisor Rob Carr are going to inspect a jail facility in Brookings, South Dakota, that used fifth generation MSSI cells.

Based on previous bids, Coughlin said going with MSSI over a competitor like Steel Cell of North America in Baldwin, Georgia, could save the county up to $10,000 per cell. Currently, the county’s plans call for a 96-cell facility, meaning the county would save up to $1 million if it goes with MSSI.

Seavy said MSSI has two factories in Alabama, one that processes the plate steel used in the cells’ construction and another that manufactures the cells. While the cells are made off site, Seavy said they are also tailored to the specifications of each of his clients.

MSSI provided nearly 1,000 cells in the construction of the Colorado State Penitentiary in Canon City.

Carlton, Twin Lakes Township to hold public meetings on annexation

The Carlton City Council and Twin Lakes Township Board of Supervisors agreed to hold public meetings to inform residents about Carlton potentially annexing approximately 20 acres of land.


Annexation became an issue in the last couple of months after officials learned of a Minnesota statute that requires a county’s jail and courthouse to be in the county seat.

The county’s preferred site for the justice center is on about 80 acres of county-owned land near the Carlton County Transportation Building on County Highway 61.

Carlton County Justice Center 2.jpg
News Tribune Graphic

The county planned to build the facility next to the current courthouse, but after problems emerged with the property in Carlton, its attention shifted to the site on Highway 61. Couglin said Carlton County could save an estimated $3.5 to $3.9 million in site preparation costs if it moves the justice center to the Highway 61 site.

The Twin Lakes Board would agree to the annexation, but board chair Diane Felde-Finke said she wanted an assurance from the county board that the facility would be built there.

Coughlin and other county officials have said the site on Highway 61, also called the “green site,” is the preferred option because of costs associated with building in Carlton and the ample space available in the event the facility is ever expanded.

In what Ketola called a Catch-22 situation, the county cannot formally make the green site its preferred location until the annexation is complete. Orderly annexation of the property would not require a vote by the residents of either municipality, just approval of a joint resolution by the Carlton City Council and the Twin Lakes Board.


“This is the absolute preferred site,” Ketola said. “The only reason we would ever not (build at the green site) is if it took more time to do the annexation because it wasn’t a joint resolution. I think as soon as the city and the township agree to that annexation, then this is where the plans will be to build.”

Minnesota statute does not require the property to be contiguous to the rest of the county seat. The county already owns the land it hopes Carlton can annex for the justice center project, meaning the tax bases in Carlton and Twin Lakes would not be affected.

The Carlton City Council and Twin Lakes Board have yet to schedule public meetings on the annexation.

Carlton County Commissioner Gary Peterson checks out a bunk in a sample jail cell from Maximum Security Services Inc. Monday, July 19, 2021. (Jamey Malcomb /

Carlton County Commissioner Gary Peterson checks out a bunk in a sample jail cell from Maximum Security Services Inc. Monday, July 19, 2021. (Jamey Malcomb /

Jamey Malcomb has a been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
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