WALLACE, Idaho - Tight living spaces and crowds of people do not mix – that's what one North Idaho county jail is seeing often, along with a few other structural problems with their building.
Shoshone County is now asking its voters to help pay for a $22 million bond to build a new jail and public safety facility to upgrade working conditions for their staff.
"We've had a mindset of putting a band-aid on this problem for years," said Sheriff Mike Gunderson.
He's only been in office for a few years, but sees the dangers his staff is working in.
"Our office space would be the same that it is here now for all our employees. The biggest thing that would be different is separating our communications center," he said. "Our communications center, right now, is housed within our jail unit."
When a person has to come in and get booked into jail, they are only a few feet away from the 911 dispatch center.
"When you get a couple of really unruly people in here, and they're banging on this stuff," Capt. Lance Stutzke said, as he bangs the holding cell. "You can imagine that noise in there and that's mild hitting."
Their current facility is about 18,000 sq ft. The new one they would like to build, if voters approve, would be nearly double that at 32,000 sq ft.
This new facility would clean up all their safety hazards from exposed wires, to leaky ceilings and having appropriate places to store their files.
Boxes of files are in the basement next to cleaning supplies and historic files are put underneath a tarp, just in case a pipe bursts and water leaks onto them.
"There's pretty much nowhere to put them," Capt. Stutzke said.
The biggest issue of all is the overcrowding of inmates they see on some days. They currently have 48 beds.
"We booked 21 individuals last week alone so that's half the jail population. So, last week we were running as high as 57 in a 48 bed facility," Sheriff Gunderson said.
The new jail they're hoping to get would house 98 inmates.
"Obviously, it causes not only problems for the inmates there, that are in pretty confined quarters, but also creates problems for our employees and the safety issues, the morality issues," he said. "There's always tension. You put 20 people in a space for 10, you'll have high tensions... to come into work with that tension every single day."
If this bond doesn't pass, eventually taxpayers will have to pay for inmates to go to other counties to be housed.
Right now, it's about $80 a day to house an inmate in Nez Perce County, according to Sheriff Gunderson.
"On top of that, housing costs and then you have the transportation costs. I just don't think it's not a win for our tax payers to go down that road. They'll be spending a lot more money housing and transportation than it would be to build a new facility," Sheriff Gunderson said.
Sheriff Gunderson said he understands they are based in a retirement community. He said the Board of County Commissioners will eventually help pay back the bond from money they receive in housing state inmates.
"Not a lot of governing bodies are willing to do that, and so we have that unique opportunity and situation," he said.
Currently, they are not housing any state inmates, but Sheriff Gunderson said they are in talks with the Idaho Department of Corrections to do so again if the bond gets approved and it's built.
"Shoshone County has, historically over the years, housed Idaho Department of Corrections inmates that help offset costs of our facility. We just haven't been able to bring inmates in because of our over-population problem," he said.
The County has policies to follow when running a jail, and if they continue they way they do now, Sheriff Gunderson said they might lose their jail certification. This could result in their insurance premium going up and their coverage going down.
"Because we're no longer following, in their eyes, jail standards," Sheriff Gunderson said.
He added that some people may think the problem with having an overcrowded jail is because they're putting people in there who commit misdemeanors.
"Most of our inmates that we house here are violent misdemeanors, domestic battery situations, no contact order violations, or they're felons," he said.
If passed, homeowners could see an increase of $75 on a home value of $100,000.
Some might say a high price, but in Sheriff Gunderson's eyes, it's needed.
"We can't keep going with that band-aid mentality. We need to find a solution to move forward for our citizens here," he said.
To learn more about the bond, visit the Shoshone County Sheriff's Department's Facebook page here.
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