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Options for new jail discussed by county board
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DARLINGTON – In anticipation to having several members of the public in attendance, the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors met at the Multi-Purpose building on Ames Road on Tuesday, Feb. 11 to hear from representatives from Potter Lawson on future options for the jail.

Rebecca Prochaska and Kevin Anderson of Potter Lawson expanded on the three options given to the Law Enforcement Committee late last year.

Option A was to add a second floor addition to the structure and renovate the existing building. With the 7,240 sq. ft. addition and the renovation, the estimated price was $8.4 million. The structure is not designed to take detention grade construction. They looked into using steel jail cells, which are lighter in weight. The upside of this option is the building would still be close to the courthouse. It would also include updated infrastructure. The downside would be the new structure would be built on top of an already aging old structure. The inmates would have to be housed out of the county, which would be an added cost.

Option B would be to build a two-story addition in the parking lot of the jail with renovations done to the current jail. The 8,900 sq. ft. addition and renovations would cost an estimated $9.9 million. The upside is the jail is still connected to the courthouse. The downside is the current old structure, loss of parking lot, reduction in beds and loss of bed count.

Option C would be a new 50-bed jail on a new site, which would be estimated at costing $16.9 million. That price does not include land acquisition. The pros of the option would be the jail would meet all of the Department of Corrections (DOC) standards and they would not be required to house out of county. The con to the option is the cost and being away from the courthouse.

Potter Lawson was impressed with how the county has been dealing with the issues at the jail.

“What we are impressed with is how the county is doing a remarkable job making do with what they have. This jail project is not just about the number of beds but it is about staff safety and reducing repeat offenders,” Anderson stated.

Some of the trends in newer jails that are lacking in the current jail are an exercise area, medical/medical office, special needs/mental health area, separate pre-booking and interview room suicide prevention area, education/programming/life skills space, more day lighting, larger day rooms, and larger cell square footage.

“All the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing are at end of life. There are doors that are no longer going to be repaired. The cells do not meet the DOC square footing requirements. Once you start remodeling, everything will have to be remodeled,” Prochaska said.

Jail Background Information

Lafayette County Sheriff Reg Gill stated that the assessments by Potter Lawson and the National Institute of Corrections – Jail Division pointed out several of the issues with overcrowding and maintaining a building close to 40-years-old.

The current jail was built in 1979 and opened in 1980. Planning for building the current jail began in 1969. Gill hopes the plans for the new jail won’t take that long.

“We have a tremendous increase of people coming into the jail. We have experienced overcrowding in the last year and the building is beginning to show its age,” Gill stated.

Gill went on to explain the issues the staff has been dealing with at the jail. Plumbing fixtures are constantly being replaced in all the cellblocks. The pipes in the walls are also aging but are harder to fix. The main door going from secure to non-secure is wearing out. The locking mechanism is causing issues. The door is built into the cinder block wall and fused together with an adjoining door. The company that repairs the door stated they would no longer be fixing the door if it breaks again. A new door could cost between $10,000-$15,000.

Space in the jail has become a big issue. Not only is the jail running out of room for the inmates, the jail has deficiencies pertaining to space for nursing staff to assess inmates, programming for the DOC, recreation/exercise area and onsite mental health services. Every space doubles as something else.

The average number of inmates housed out of the county has risen since 2018. The jail is currently housing 22 inmates. Five are out on ankle monitors and three are being housed in Grant County. It costs the county $50/day to house inmates in Grant, Green or Iowa.

“We have an agreement with the surrounding counties to charge the same amount but right now it is a lopsided deal. We are taking more people out than we ever see come back in,” said Gill.

The number of days Lafayette County has had inmates out of county has grown. In 2017 there were 27; 2018 was 49; then in 2019 the county had 670 days. When counted out for number of people times days, it ended up being 1,493 days the county had to pay for.

Gill also read a news release published on Oct. 10, 2000, written by then Sheriff Scott Pedley, that read during that time, the jail was at full capacity. Every bed was occupied. Efforts were made to receive additional beds from the state, which was later approved. It stated that based on current trends, the extra beds would only be a band-aid.

“The Lafayette County jail has been operating on that band-aid for 20 years,” Gill said.

One of the big issues referenced in all of the assessments done on the jail was the inability to properly house inmates by classification: minimum, medium, maximum. According to the DOC, sentenced and pre-sentenced inmates are not supposed to be housed together. It also becomes an issue when co-defendants are in the facility as it is undesirable to house those inmates in the same areas. Another issues comes when housing by gender and having the correct space for female and male inmates or those identifying as transgender.

The jailers are also the dispatchers. There are always two dispatchers on duty with part of their time used to supervise inmates.

But a survey done of the inmates brought positive feedback on the staffing. Gill credited the positive comments and compliments due to the staff doing their job correctly and to the best of their ability.

“The DOC is allowing us to stay open. They are very understanding of the fact that we are dealing with an older facility and we just don’t have the space,” said Gill.

Board members questions

Lafayette County Board Supervisors weighed the pros and cons of the jail options.

Chairman Jack Sauer asked if there would be any personnel costs with a new building. Gill stated none of the options could be done without increasing staff.

“The jailers and dispatchers are the same. There would have to be some changes made to separate those job duties,” Gill said.

Sauer also commented on the idea of the jail taking over the current space occupied by UW-Extension. Gill stated that space would only be able to be used as office space and would not add any bed space to the jail.

“We would love to stay connected to the courthouse. If we build a new jail, we could add a courtroom. We could use video court. Going back and forth to court would be an inconvenience,” Gill explained.

Former Lafayette County Sheriff and Board Supervisor Scott Pedley felt he was biased in this decision-making. He felt the county should find the option that is the least labor intensive.

“I urge the board to take into consideration as we struggle with this in our future. I am more inclined to go up on the hill in Darlington and build a different facility and repurpose what we have,” Pedley said.

Sauer agreed with Pedley but reminded the other board members there was a lot that still need to be done on other county facilities.

“We still have the Manor and hospital to deal with. Those are three big things that we can’t afford to all do at once. I’m not sure what the best approach is. It could be a whole lot of money. We have to see which is the most important,” Sauer said.

Leon Wolfe asked about purchasing property across the street from the jail. Gill answered that has been mentioned but they have not looked into that option yet. Pedley was against the idea because the property is land locked and wouldn’t work for the county’s needs.

Bev Anderson, who is temporarily filling the seat left vacant by Tony Ruesga in District 6, stated she was bothered by Lafayette County depending on outside counties.

“We should keep our money in our own county and circulate within, so you don’t have other people with power over you. For 20 years we knew we needed a new jail. We should have been planning for the future. We need to bite the bullet and do something right and do it right. We need to explain to the taxpayers what we want to do and work together to get it done. We need to stop and do something rather than just talk about it,” Anderson said.

Sauer did not like the first two options and suggested the county look at other options. Gill stated they have not exhausted their list of things to do.

“We are in the very infant stages of this. There is a lot of work that needs to be done. Society is not getting better. Eventually it will get here,” Gill said.