JEROME — County commissioners appear to be just weeks away from securing two contracts to lease space in the county jail.
State inmates currently occupy 50 beds in the jail, but without a contract, Commissioner Charlie Howell said Tuesday. That contract with the Idaho Department of Corrections materialized earlier this week and is on Monday’s agenda.
Also this week, a representative with the U.S. Marshal’s Office toured the jail, discussed the contract process and filled out a preliminary request, Howell said.
Commissioners have sought contracts to house inmates from outside the county since the Jerome County Jail opened in July 2016. Currently the jail has a 136-bed capacity, Sheriff Doug McFall said.
“Most of the taxpayers want to make sure whatever we do, we make the best use of the facility, and we don’t have to pay the whole term of the bond,” McFall said.
Commissioner Cathy Roemer agrees.
“I want to put Jerome County first — to do what is best for us, our staff and our pocket book,” Roemer said. “Anytime you have options, it makes for a better scenario. Now we have options.”
For now, the news should quiet local civil rights groups and dairy farmers, who have vehemently opposed a previously discussed contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“We’ve heard nothing more from ICE,” Commissioner Roger Morley said.
The county currently houses Jerome and Lincoln inmates, and leases space to the Corrections Department. The state pays $45 per bed per day, but with a contract, the state would pay for a block of 50 beds, whether used or not, Roemer said.
Legislators are hoping to increase the daily rate, she said.
The U.S. Marshal’s Office has offered $65 per bed per day.
“They said they could fill 30 beds right now,” Roemer said.
It’s not a case of one agency or the other, Morley said. In addition to its own inmates, Jerome County could accommodate both agencies.
But that would depend on the type of inmates each agency would send, commissioners agreed.
“We’ve expressed our concerns about the level of security risk (to IDOC Director Henry Atencio),” Morley said. “Our jailers are not prison guards. They’re good, but they are law enforcement people.” The U.S. Marshal’s Office needs the space for those awaiting court dates, Roemer said.“Once they are sentenced they will go to where they will serve their sentence,” she said.
The jail could eventually hold another 48 inmates, McFall said. The facility was built with expansion in mind.
What if the ICE contract suddenly came up?
“We sat here and waited and waited on ICE,” Roemer said. “If we do receive a contract from them, we have to at least look at it.”