County jail sudy moves into Phase II

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Red Willow County commissioners agreed with the jail task force Monday morning and will proceed to Phase II of a study into the possibility of building a county jail.

Commissioners agreed with task force members that there is a need for a jail in the county, and voted unanimously to start Phase II, which would include a pre-architecture study to determine the number of beds, staffing needs, operational and maintenance costs and site possibilities for a county jail.

The study would cost about $31,000, or 15 percent of the architect fees ($211,000) anticipated in the jail needs study (Phase I) by Bowker and Martin of Allied Correctional Services.

Task force chairman Reuben Hoff Jr. said, "If the city wants in, this is the time to come aboard." Commission Chairman Earl McNutt agreed, saying he will approach the City Council again about cooperating with the county on the study and a jail facility. Hoff said, "The city's involvement would impact the number of beds and the selection of a site."

Commissioner Leigh Hoyt said he sees three choices: 1. Building a jail strictly for the needs of Red Willow County; 2. Cooperating on a facility with the city; and 3. Investigating and studying the possibility of a regional jail facility.

"I can't see -- 10 years down the road -- that every county will have its own jail, or even its own courthouse," Hoyt said. "I think a regional jail is the way to go, but it looks like to me we need something now."

Hoyt suggested building a jail in such a manner that it could be expanded if a regional jail were mandated by the state or federal government. "I'm not saying building 50 beds. I'm saying building for our own needs now, and being able to expand it at some point," Hoyt said.

Commissioner Steve Downer said the operations of a jail in Red Willow County could also be regionalized, using it as a dispatch center for a region larger than Red Willow County.

"We just as well get on with our plans," Downer said, building the physical plant, and, if necessary, sharing operational costs with the city or even on a regional basis.

McNutt said he doesn't want to wait to make a decision on the jail until a time when the city decides to discontinue its 96-hour holding cells. "We can't wait until our hand is forced," McNutt said. "We need to plan ahead."

Commissioners have looked into the jail situation for several years, and created the jail task force in April 2004 to study the county's jail needs. Commissioners hired Allied Correctional Services in January 2005.

The county's jail closed because it failed to meet state fire codes in the early 1980s. Since that time, Red Willow County's sheriff's department has detained prisoners in the city's 96-hour holding cells or transported them to jails in neighboring counties in Nebraska and Kansas.

McNutt told Hoff that commissioners do not plan to disband the jail study task force, but to utilize its members' knowledge to help answer questions from the public and continue with Phase II of the study.

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