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home : news : news Thursday, July 10, 2014

1/29/2014 Email this articlePrint this article 
Study calls for doubling size of Clinton County jail

By Jeremy Huss
Staff writer

A new Clinton County jail should be designed for up to 96 inmates, more than double the capacity of the current facility, according to a firm studying the county's future jail needs.

Engineering/architecture consultant firm Shive Hattery is conducting the jail needs assessment on behalf of the Clinton County Justice Coordinating Commission (CCJCC) for use in planning for construction of a new jail to replace the 44-year-old facility located next to the Clinton County Courthouse.

The assessment calls for a jail with 84-120 beds based on the local population and Iowa's incarceration rate, but the forecast was lowered to 96 beds with indirect supervision based on a local incarceration rate below the state average.

Preliminary design is for a 47,000-square foot facility that would include the jail, communications center and sheriff's office. A Clinton Police Department space would include 33,000 square feet and an additional 10,000 square feet for parking.

"They have come up with some conceptual drawings. There's not a lot of definition to them yet, although they have couple different layouts based on site location," sheriff Rick Lincoln told the CCJCC Jan. 23.

The consultant also is looking at site considerations between a downtown location or "green field" construction in an undeveloped area, but the process is not yet to the point of looking at specific locations, Lincoln said.

The current focus of the study is on crunching the numbers to determine staffing levels, the number of correctional officer stations needed and the associated personnel costs, jail administrator Craig Eberhart said.

"As the sheriff has always said, it's not the building that's going to be the big cost here, it's the manpower," he said.

The consultants are going as far as looking at site options away from downtown Clinton that would be large enough to fit a future courthouse, Eberhart noted.

"It's something I never thought of, but the courthouse building may not always be where it is now," he said.

"They think long term," Lincoln added.

Staffing costs are a major factor in the design and will determine whether the county chooses a direct or indirect supervision system, Lincoln said.

Unlike the linear design of the current jail, both direct and indirect systems allow continuous observation of inmates. Direct supervision places the correctional officer's station within the inmate living area, while indirect supervision places the correctional officer's station in a secure room outside the living area.

The conceptual design currently calls for indirect supervision of inmates.

Designers are trying to set up a facility that will allow staff to have clear views of inmate areas while preventing inmates from seeing each other. That has resulted in an oval-shape design, Lincoln said.

A significant challenge is maintaining the legally-required sight and sound separation between male, female and juvenile inmates, he noted.

Clinton police chief Brian Guy asked how sound separation can be achieved without separate areas for juveniles or women.

"Where we have bars, they have plexi-glass," Lincoln said.

In response to questions from Clinton County mental health director Becky Eskildsen, Lincoln clarified the jail will not house a juvenile detention center but could include juvenile inmates charged with forcible felonies.

Clinton County already takes custody of juveniles in those cases, "but Lt. Eberhart has requested to send them to Scott County due to our facility issues," he explained.

The sheriff's office will be able to staff the jail more efficiently with the new facility, Eberhart said, but there still will be additional costs due to the increase in capacity from 44 to more than 90 inmates.

"The most efficient staffing scenario is with a 1,000-bed jail, which is obviously larger than ours," Lincoln said.

Clerk of court Kim Hess asked if officials plan to take in prisoners from outside counties once more beds are available at the jail.

Lincoln said it's possible depending on the impact on staffing. Eberhart warned against the idea of building a jail to make money, and both he and Lincoln said the need for jail beds in the region has diminished since Scott and Cedar counties built new and larger jails in recent years.

The state jail inspector will have to sign off on whatever jail plan the county develops, Lincoln noted.

Asked about land acquisition, Lincoln said the best-case scenario is for a new jail next to the existing courthouse, but the assessment has not yet reached the site selection process.

Fewer inmates, longer stays

During the open forum section of the meeting, Eberhart shared the most recent data on jail book-ins.

2013 saw the lowest monthly average number of inmates booked into jail since 2004, with 129 inmates per month.

However, at 11 days, the average length of stay is the highest since 2004, Eberhart said.

Eberhart said the length of stay was averaging lower but jumped substantially in the last four months of the year, around the same time law enforcement made a large number of methamphetamine-related arrests.

"I'm not sure if it's an anomaly or not," Eberhart stated.

Eskildsen said mental health officials also saw a spike in involuntary commitments at the end of the year. She speculated the cold weather may have contributed to the increase in incidents, noting all area homeless shelters have been at capacity this winter.

Health law could cut costs

Jail officials will distribute information about how to sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to inmates being released from jail and attempt to track the results in the hope of lowering county costs.

Two county employees have been trained as certified application counselors for the ACA - Eskildsen and Kim Ralston, director of community assistance programs - and they are available at the county administration building to assist residents in signing up for low-cost insurance.

Eskildsen said getting released inmates signed up for insurance is a win-win situation because it will provide them access to needed medication and other medical care and eliminate a stress factor that could contribute to individuals returning to jail.

The commission discussed setting up an enrollment center at the jail but took no action because of logistical and staffing concerns.

Citizen representative Norlan Mommsen asked if the county can be held liable if released inmates fail to get insurance and where personal responsibility fits into the equation.

County attorney Mike Wolf said there is no liability. Sheriff Lincoln said individuals in the recidivist jail population don't think and act in the same way as "NORPs," a term created by a retired judge and author to describe "normal, ordinary, responsible people."

He recommended the course, "Bridges Out Of Poverty," as a means to understand such differences.

"The purpose is to save the county money. Without that (insurance), the responsibility falls upon us . . It puts a safety net there, and ultimately it helps us and them," Wolf added.

Coordinator hiring

A timeline has been established for hiring a CCJCC coordinator to replace Brian McKenrick, who resigned last fall.

The job listing has been posted locally and on the Internet with a Feb. 14 application deadline, and two applications have been received to date, Lincoln said.

A panel consisting of Lincoln, Eskildsen, Eberhart, Wolf and Mommsen will conduct the interviews and make an employment recommendation to the full commission.

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