CALDWELL — After months of disagreeing over how to handle jail overcrowding, Canyon County commissioners on Monday approved steps toward running another bond measure for a new jail, along with starting negotiations to put up trailers outside the jail in Caldwell to house female inmates.
In a heated meeting Monday, commissioners passed a series of motions — most over the objections of Commissioner Steve Rule — solidifying immediate and long-term plans to address an overcrowding “crisis” at the Canyon County jail, the Dale G. Haile Detention Center in Caldwell.
Commissioner Pam White voted via phone from Minnesota.
“An undeniable, indisputable fact is that with increased growth comes increased crime,” Commissioner Tom Dale said. “We are in a crisis situation today.”
The immediate future includes beginning the permit and contracting process for a temporary housing solution for female inmates in the jail parking lot in Caldwell. After a 2-1 vote, with Rule outnumbered, commissioners directed legal staff to begin preliminary contract negotiations with Missouri-based All Detainment Solutions, which uses stainless steel truck trailers to build temporary jail “pods” for jails across the country.
The long-term plan includes the possibility of running a bond on the November ballot to pay for a new 1,044-bed jail on county-owned property on Pond Lane, off Highway 20/26 near Caldwell. The numbers are based on a jail study conducted by DLR Group, which recommended a new 1,044-bed jail for a projected cost of $170 million to $198 million.
Commissioners did not identify or vote on any dollar amount for a potential November bond.
If the bond fails, elected officials said they would look to the Idaho Legislature to pass a bill allowing counties to levy a sales tax for county jail or courthouse construction.
Rule voted against nearly every motion regarding temporary jail housing and a new jail. He protested the veracity of the DLR study, the expressed need for 1,044 beds, building a new jail on the Pond Lane property and beginning the process of getting a jail bond on the November 2018 ballot.
Rule did vote in favor of a motion to direct staff to “re-engage” with DLR Group to get new projected construction costs for 2021, the likely start date for construction if a bond or other jail funding options were approved in the next year. However, he refused to support another bond attempt for a jail on rural Canyon County property.
“Does history mean anything to this?” Rule asked White and Dale after the motions. “You guys weren’t on the board when all the complaints came in after the election saying that we picked a bad (jail) site.”
County commissioners authorized county attorneys to begin contract negotiations with All Detainment Solutions to build temporary housing that would be used exclusively for Canyon County’s female inmates, many of whom are currently housed in the modified jail annex.
Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue again emphasized the trailer housing should not be viewed as any type of permanent solution, estimating that in a “best-case scenario,” Canyon County would need to use the facility for only two or three years, even though All Detainment Solutions is proposing a minimum seven-year lease.
The temporary housing would alleviate Canyon County’s portion of the jail crowding crisis growing across the state. Idaho is currently considering a $500 million prison expansion, according to a previous report by the Idaho Press.
“No one in the state has any room for our inmates,” Donahue said. “They barely have any room for their own.”
The county will not initiate formal contract proceedings until building permits for the temporary housing units are approved. Any final contract would need to come before the Board of Commissioners again.
Canyon County Clerk Chris Yamamoto told commissioners building and leasing the jail pods, with a proposed 122 beds, would cost about $2 million a year on a seven-year lease, including county operational and staff costs. The county would also need to budget an additional $300,000 for contingencies, Yamamoto said.
County officials and jail staff toured a similar facility built by All Detainment Solutions for the Greene County Jail in Missouri, which houses over 100 inmates in six trailers made of stainless steel, Canyon County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Daren Ward said. A quarter-inch mesh net lined with razor wire surrounds the secure outdoor recreation area between the trailers, he said.
Yamamoto, who toured the Greene County facility with other county staff on July 2, showed elected officials mock designs for a similar facility in Caldwell.
“As you can see, it’s a very commercial-looking building,” Yamamoto said. “Other than the razor wire.”
If commissioners decide to lease or purchase the units, Canyon County would close the annex currently housing female inmates for repairs, county spokesman Joe Decker previously told the Idaho Press. The sheriff’s office would hire one new deputy and move two deputies to the jail pods.
After completing repairs and general maintenance — which are difficult to complete because of crowding, Ward said — male inmates would be relocated to the annex.
Canyon County currently houses about 30-40 inmates outside the county every day — quadruple the number of last year. Officials projected that housing inmates at other county jails around Idaho will cost about $1 million next fiscal year.
Canyon County has struggled to approve and pass a plan for a new jail to alleviate crowding for nearly a decade. Three bonds failed under previous commissioners, a point Rule made several times over the course of Monday’s meeting.
In motions also contested by Rule, Dale and White voted to move forward with plans for a new 1,044-bed jail on Pond Lane in rural Canyon County.
Rule specifically protested the Pond Lane site as too far from the Canyon County Courthouse, opening the county to liability and unnecessary expenditures transporting inmates to court appearances.
Donahue said the Pond Lane property’s approximate 3.5-mile distance from the Canyon County Courthouse was a slightly shorter commute than the distance between the Ada County Jail and the Ada County Courthouse — about 4.5 miles.
“We also see a greater expense transporting inmates from Adams County, Owyhee County and Washington County to the courthouse,” Donahue said.
Dale said many of the necessary utilities have already been connected to the Pond Lane property.
Dale said any long-term solution for the Canyon County Jail that didn’t move county inmates out of the Dale G. Haile Detention Center would be short-sighted.
Although Canyon County has now adopted DLR Group’s recommendations for the future jail’s location and size, Dale said they have made no decisions on design or cost.
Pending updated construction projections from DLR Group, Canyon County may issue another request for proposals for jail construction. In March, four companies responded to the county’s request for information about building and financing a new jail. Before that, commissioners met with Missouri-based firm HOK in February.
Canyon County legal staff will also work with DLR Group to find counsel for a potential November bond election. Any contracts with legal representation would still need to go before the commissioners.