Community reaches out to less fortunate

Wednesday, December 24, 2003
Students in Rich Urquidi's leadership class at the high school helped wrap presents for the Giving Tree program.

Elmore County residents will be asked to approve a jail bond during the November 2004 general election. Traditionally, the presidential elections have a larger voter turn out than special elections. By including the bond issue on the ballot, the Board of Elmore County Commissioners hope to reach the greatest volume of voters.

With favorably low interest rates and an economy which seems to be improving, the commissioners feel now is the time to move forward with plans for a new county jail.

A primary concern for the county is that the jail does not meet the standards now recommended by the Idaho Sheriff's Jail Standards. The jail was designed and built in 1973, five years before the current standards were adopted. The facility has 18 bed spaces for inmates in a county of more than 28,000 residents. Yet the average number of holds is 27 per day.

The jail facility can only hold four female prisoners who must all bunk together. When there are more females, the county must pay to have the women held in other counties. The only other option is to reassign male prisoners to another wing and then place all the women in a separate wing that limits the amount of space the jail may use.

When the jail was first built 29 years ago, the requirements were much more lenient. By making some adjustments and remodeling portions of the existing facility, as well as utilizing some special programs, the sheriff's office has been able to keep the number of out of county holds from skyrocketing. But the actions provide only a temporary solution -- a band aid fix at best.

The design also makes it difficult for the jailer to keep an eye on everything. Only a small carefully positioned mirror allows the jailer to see down the corridor as he stands at the control console. Privacy issues mean cameras cannot be used to keep an eye in the cells. The jailer must physically walk along the cells in order to see into them.

The layout of the facility means it cannot be staff efficient or easy to secure and supervise and makes it nearly impossible to allow for the proper classification and separation of inmates.

The current facility offers little in the way of natural lighting and the limited outside recreation space is barely adequate.

The linear design allows only one emergency escape route.

Investigations have shown that remodeling or expansion the current facility is not a practical solution nor fiscally responsible.

The county has purchased eight acres across from the golf course on E. 8th North Street that could be used as a location for a new facility and has set aside nearly $2 million for the jail. There has been no determination made as to whether the money would be used for construction or to help ease the increased operation and maintenance costs once a new facility is opened.

Commissioner Calvin Ireland pointed out that building something that is just adequate is not enough. "We must project for the future. The new jail should at least carry us through the life of a bond. We do not want to have to go back to the people and ask for more if they haven't been able to pay for the first bond."

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