Union County’s old jail survives closing option again

Posted February 13, 2013 at 5:23 pm

By Julie Ann Madden

Old cast iron sewage pipes are leaking again in the old jail located in the Union County Courthouse.

At their Jan. 22 meeting, Commissioners had to decide whether to fix this leakage at a cost of about $3,000 or close this jail, which is something they have been contemplating for a number of years.

This old jail is used to house prisoners who have work release. These prisoners are kept in the courthouse jail instead of the new Law Enforcement Center jail across the parking lot. Union County Sheriff Dan Limoges explained this arrangement increases jail security.

Grounds Keeper/Building Superintendent Scott Sexton told the commission the plumbing work would have to be done on weekends because once the pipes were “cracked open,” there would be a sewer odor throughout the courthouse. He noted about half of these cast iron sewer pipes have already been replaced. Sexton estimated it would take a couple of weekends to fix this new problem.

“Do we shut the jail down or put more money into it?” asked Commission Chairman Doyle Karpen.

“I understand it’s $3,000,” said Limoges, “but we utilize that jail.”

“With what the governor’s done, I think we’re going to be utilizing it a heck of a lot more,” he said, explaining the state’s goal is to keep people out of prisons. Basically, counties are taking on the responsibility for housing prisoners such as parole violators instead of them being sent to state prisons. Judges are putting them in county jails and starting to utilize other means such as 24/7 ankle bracelets and work release programs.

“I don’t think we are ready to abandon this jail yet, based on storage and everything else,” said Limoges. “Is (this old jail closure) going to happen? Probably some day but I’m asking, let’s invest in it and keep it viable.”

He noted he would still be using it at least a couple years or so before commissioners decided to do any renovations. Currently, about half of the courthouse jail space is used for document storage.

“With the jail, we don’t have to tear everything out,” said Karpen, explaining walls could be placed around the bars or just use the individual jail cages as security for storage, even the county’s voting machines.

“We have to think outside the box on all this because we have square footage,” said Karpen. “We have a footprint. If we’re not using it, use it for something.”

“We’re using it every day,” said Limoges.

Responding to whether these prisoners could be absorbed into the new jail, Limoges said probably but the current setup provides better security.

“For $3,000, we should fix the plumbing,” said Commissioner Ross Jordan. “You never know what you’ll need later.”

Sexton and Limoges asked how this should be paid for: out of the sheriff’s budget or the building budget, which is Sexton’s.

“It’s in the main building, fix the plumbing,” said Jordan, and the commission’s consensus was to have Sexton fix it and pay for it from his building budget.

Juvenile Detention Center

Earlier in the meeting, Commissioner Milton Ustad reported on a Minnehaha County meeting about the construction of a new regional juvenile detention center.

It’s been a couple of years since this committee had met on the proposed regional facility project, he explained. Now, the committee is still “discussing building a juvenile detention center but it will be a whole lot smaller.”

State officials have changed how juveniles are housed, said Ustad, noting in 2009, the current Minnehaha County facility had 15,070 bed days for juveniles but in 2011, the number dropped to 9,796 bed days and for the first nine months of 2012, the number was just 2,704 bed days.

Union County still uses the Minnehaha County facility to house its juvenile offenders, especially since Woodbury County, Iowa, doesn’t guarantee bed space for Union County juveniles.

The committee is proposing building a much smaller center with its primary purpose of being a facility where juveniles are processed into the judicial system.

The current facility is old and needs replaced is the committee’s explanation, said Ustad.

The cost would be much less for counties who participate in this building project than originally planned, said Ustad, explaining eventually the Commission will have to decide whether Union County is one of the members for this project. Being a member gives the county the advantage of being guaranteed bed space for juveniles and at a set price lower than what is charged to non-members.

Union County was not one of the 14 counties participating in the original proposed project.

Ustad informed fellow commissioners he will continue to attend these committee meetings but it will be about 2.5 years before the committee makes a decision to do something. In the next six months, they will be getting bids on the new proposed project.

“It’s pretty preliminary at this point,” said Ustad, noting state officials are now trying this same philosophy (of reducing housing prisoners) with corrections facilities.

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