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Rumbling in the jail

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

To satisfy Nebraska law the Red Willow County Board of Commissioners have plans in motion to build a new county jail. A score of local citizens are opposed to building the needed facility on the site selected by the Commissioners. Each group has valid reasons for favoring or opposing the site adjacent to the Courthouse. What to do?

A bit of history may be in order. The court house was built in what was near the north edge of town circa 1926. In the tradition of the day it is an imposing structure and built "hell for strong." At about the same time a county jail was constructed adjacent to the courthouse; Sheriff's office and jail cells on the first floor, Sheriff's living quarters on the second floor. The Sheriff's wife cooked for the inmates.

The courthouse and jail combination served the community well up into the 1980s. Then the Nebraska Jail Standards Board made an inspection and deemed that the jail was suddenly out of compliance and must be considerably remodeled--no state funds furnished, it had to be on the county's dime. The Commissioners rebelled, the jail was good enough for its purpose and they resisted the extensive/expensive upgrade. The State Jail Standards proved their point and forced the Commissioners to close the facility.

To comply with the state mandated requirement to incarcerate local prisoners the County Sheriff/Board of Commissioners contracted with neighboring county prisons to lease jail space. Actually it proved to be much cheaper to rent than it would have been to operate our own county jail. That practice continues to this date.

For the neighboring counties to rent us space for prisoners proved to be good deal for them also. The funds that we paid the neighbors enabled them to use their jailers to provide 24 hour dispatch for their counties.

Having our prisoners housed away from the county had the disadvantage of having to transport them to and from our courthouse for hearings at the whim of local judges. It seems that judges require the prisoner's physical presence. Many times the sheriff would travel the twenty or forty miles to pick up the prisoner from the jail where he was being held, travel back to McCook, spend maybe five minutes in court in front of the judge and than have to take the prisoner back to where he is being held. Then too few prisoners are afforded just one hearing in front of the judge, two, three, four or more seemed to be the usual practice. When I was commissioner I suggested that perhaps the judge do the traveling or possibly we could make arrangements for closed circuit TV for those short hearings but both those ideas were non-starters right out of the box. I also noted that our county had to pay mileage for local lawyers to travel to and from wherever we were holding prisoners.

In the not-too-distant past municipalities, including McCook, had city jails to hold those accused of violating city ordinances. Those prisoners appeared before a city magistrate, located in the same building, to plead their cases.

The present police department facility has those cells and the police dispatchers are also trained as jailers to look after any perps being held. Present rules dictate that prisoners can only be held in the city cells for a maximum of 96 hours. Again the sheriff is responsible for the short trips to take those prisoners for hearings before the judges now all located in the county courthouse. The county reimburses the city for holding those prisoners whether picked up for violating city ordinances, state or federal laws.

In the very recent past the local police dispatch was modernized with automated equipment to efficiently dispatch for the entire county for law enforcement and the several fire districts. Those dispatchers still operate 24/7 and also serve as jailers for the 96 hour holding cells. A golden opportunity was missed when planning for the upgrade because that modern equipment has the capability of dispatching for all the counties in southwestern Nebraska. Had that been done the adjoining counties would have no reason to employ personnel 24/7 and a regional jail would have made sense. Unfortunately we don't seem to think that way.

I presume that McCook's new municipal safety center will include space for the 24/7 dispatch facility but there will be no holding cells. Then if the county builds a new jail additional personnel will be required to monitor prisoners 24/7. More employees, more cost to the taxpayers. Somehow the group clamoring to have the county build the needed new jail anywhere but near Heritage Square, our local shrine to liberal democrats, has not addressed the need to transport prisoners from the new jail on the many required trips to the courthouse. The simplest solution would be to walk them through a closed hallway from the adjacent jail right into the courtroom. Escorted by the Sheriff there would be no exposing the prisoners to traffic accidents. The enclosed hallway would almost completely eliminate any chance for the prisoner to escape when transferring from building to automobile at least four times for each round trip as is the present practice.

Proceeding north on Norris Avenue, one can glance at the beautifully restored Frank Lloyd Wright designed Sutton House. The vista of that historic home has already been considerably improved by the Commissioners demolishing the large seedy looking apartment house that until recently was just across the street to the south. The new jail facility will not extend as far north as the large well kept apartment house that is yet standing but soon to be removed. That will open more space to view the Wright designed edifice. The commissioners have assured the public that the new open area will be tastefully landscaped which will only add to the aura of McCook's grandest home.

It appears that a lack of cooperation between the City and the County has again saddled the taxpayers of the area with increased costs over what could have been. Maybe it is time for one or the other of the police or sheriff's departments to be eliminated and just have one county wide law enforcement agency. That agency would be responsible for the jail and dispatch all in one facility. Simple, economical and efficient but then it would not be as entertaining to watch the two agencies bicker with each other as each tries to build an ever larger empire.

Still no communication from Grannie's Chaplain and his warrior flock in Afghanistan. That is the way I saw it.

Dick Trail

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Part of the problem old commiss is your comment it was cheaper to rent jails at hilton rates vs building a new jail in 80s for 25%-50% of cost today and having it free and clear for past 30 years vs finally a group of commissioners unlike you and willing to address the issue head on vs passing the buck with your mumble jumble rent comment. I say prove it with actual numbers with real prices of constuction and vs rent payed with expenses of extra staff/drivers,gasoline over 40 years... and what last thought if that was even close to being truthfull why is all other counties in Nebraska have their own jails... ??? I thought so..sometimes you are no better than your liberal targets mumbling you blame for all the problems in the world..

-- Posted by Cornwhisperer on Tue, Mar 27, 2012, at 1:01 PM

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Dick Trail
The Way I Saw It