County jail issue just won't go away

Monday, February 21, 2011

Construction of the new city police, fire and administrative building will force us to face an issue that has been smouldering for three decades.

Red Willow County decided to close its jail in 1983 after it was deemed too expensive to bring it up to new standards. Since then, prisoners have been held in the jail cells for as long as possible -- 96 hours -- or transferred to other counties which hold "our" prisoners for a fee.

Local officials argue that we expend too much money and manpower transferring prisoners to and from out-of-town jails, not to mention needlessly exposing prisoners and sheriff's office personnel to the possibility of traffic accidents. Other counties, they note, have used Red Willow County tax dollars to upgrade their jail facilities while we still don't have any.

Before McCook voters approved the new city building, they joined county voters in turning down a combined city-county facility that would have answered the jail question.

Today, the City Council and Red Willow County commissioners plan to discuss options for holding prisoners, while Tuesday, the county board will consider conducting a feasibility study for a new county jail.

Given the state of the economy and the fact we've recently taken on construction of the new city building, it's likely we'll find a way to avoid building a new jail for as long as possible. Jails are traditionally a tough sell for voters.

But tax dollars that should be spent locally for salaries and services are being exported out of the county.

Providing a jail is the responsibility of the county, and the current system shouldn't be allowed to go on much longer.

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