Architecture and engineering firm Shive-Hattery recommended Tuesday that Guthrie County should build a $7.2 million jail, which the Sheriff said is desperately needed.
Shive Hattery’s recommendation is to build a 14,600 square-foot addition onto the existing courthouse. The addition would include room for the sheriff’s administrative offices and 24 beds with the option for jailers to separate inmates into five different groups.
There are 10 beds in the current jail and it’s hard to separate dangerous inmates and women, Sheriff Marty Arganbright said.
Many female inmates are transported to other counties such as Ringgold, Dallas, Adair, Audubon, Ogden or Boone, depending on which county has room.
“We get calls and they say ‘our population has changed, we can’t take your females. Take them to a different county,’” Arganbright said. “We’ve had to beg the last couple of years. They’ll call us and say ‘come get your inmate. They aren’t our problem. They’re yours.’”
Mike Lewis with Shive-Hattery said it generally costs about $60 per day for counties to outsource their inmates.
Arganbright said between the costs and lack of available beds in 2017 he cited and released 134 inmates he may have otherwise detained. So far this year, he’s cited and released another 92 inmates.
According to his records, Arganbright cited and released no inmates in 2012 or 2013 and only 3 in 2014. That number jumped to 55 in 2015, then 106 in 2016.
“Our inmates have big-time mental problems,” Arganbright said. “And big-time drug problems. It’s different. Society is different today. It has changed.”
While Arganbright said the new jail is needed, Guthrie County Supervisor Mike Dickson said the county can’t afford the options that Shive-Hattery presented the board with.
“I never realized when we said renovating the lower level that meant adding a $7 million addition to the
jail,” Dickson said. “You didn’t really give me an option I wanted to see.”
Lewis presented the board with three options as well as their recommendation.
A second option is to build a smaller addition – about 11,750 square-feet – onto the courthouse. The sheriff’s administration staff would stay in the old building, so it would have to be renovated to be compliant with the American Disabilities Act and current fire codes. That option will cost about $6.9 million.
The third option, which would ring in somewhere around $6.85 million, is to build a law enforcement center at a new location in Greenfield. Lewis said the county would have to consider the costs and safety hazards of transporting inmates if it chooses that option.
A final option, Lewis said, is for the county to do nothing. It could close the jail and transport all of its inmates to another county.
Lewis provided the county with projections that deal with how fast Guthrie County’s inmate population will grow. His projections show the county will likely have 21 inmates in jail on average by 2038 and 23 inmates in jail daily by 2048.
The numbers are based on Guthrie County’s projected population growth rate of .125 percent annually.
Arganbright said there are several safety concerns with the current jail, including a staircase that’s nearly too dangerous to take inmates down.
Other issues at the jail include small cell sizes and poor ventilation.
While the State of Iowa hasn’t shut down many jails for violations such as these, it’s not completely unheard of.
“The state can exercise that authority when a jail is getting to be an absolutely unsafe place for inmates and staff,” Cord Overton, a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections, said of closing a county jail.
That happened early this year in Warren County, just south of Des Moines, where the jail had a host of issues for years, such as mold, exposed electrical wiring and a lack of space to hold and separate inmates, among numerous other defects. County officials had talked about scheduling a bond referendum to pay for a new jail but didn’t.
A total of three prisoners escaped the jail in 2015 and 2016, and also in 2016 a prisoner committed suicide, according to a letter the state sent to Warren County officials that ordered them to removal all inmates by February.