Is Fourth Time a Charm for Jerome Jail Bond?

Jerome County voters thrice turned down funding proposals for a new county jail. With more information and a $10.7 million price tag, county officials hope for a different result May 15.
2012-05-08T02:25:00Z 2013-03-28T12:07:19Z Is Fourth Time a Charm for Jerome Jail Bond?By Alison Gene Smith - alismith@magicvalley.com Twin Falls Times-News

JEROME • The scent of Thursday’s freshly baked chocolate cake masked other smells that sometimes linger in the Jerome County Jail.

Box fans cooled the stagnant air while Mexican polka on the radio competed with a 24-hour TV news channel and towels strung from the ceiling caught drips from the pipes overhead. The sweet scent of cake offered a reprieve from the offense of sewage — a smell that sometimes wafts from the jail’s drain pipes, County Sheriff Doug McFall said.

“Jerome County has been making do with what we’ve got for years,” he said. Now, he hopes Jerome County voters will give jailers something new to work with.

On May 15, voters will be asked to approve a $10.7 million bond issue to fund a new jail. For the county to gain permission to sell bonds to fund the jail’s construction, a 66.7 percent supermajority of county voters will have to approve the ballot measure. The first time the county put jail funding on the ballot, in 2009, the measure failed by only 25 votes.

But support slipped in the county’s successive tries, as funding proposals again failed in May 2010 and November 2010, by 1.2 percent and 7.2 percent, respectively.

“We need a jail to protect our citizens,” Jerome County Commissioner Roger Morley said. “To be a responsible society we need a place to put those who offend the laws of our land.”

The current jail doesn’t cut it, Morley said. Regular citizens enter through the same door as inmates and the narrow hallways mean an inmate can reach out and touch a jail deputy as they walk by, no matter how close to the wall they walk.

“It has absolutely become a danger to the people working in there and it meets no Idaho jail standards,” Morley said.

The jail, built in 1974, is run down, outdated and too small, Morley said. It holds about 30 inmates, but Jerome County consistently has 50 to 80 inmates to deal with. The overflow inmates are housed at other jails, sleeping on rented beds.

In 2011 the county spent $250,000 to house inmates elsewhere, and has spent $185,000 so far in 2012, Morley said.

Schematics for a proposed new jail, measuring 38,650 square feet, show it having 130 beds with room for future expansion, if needed. The excess beds could be rented out to other counties with more inmates than they can handle, reversing Jerome County’s current situation, McFall said.

Dan Chatterton, who is running against McFall for Jerome County sheriff in the May 15 GOP primary, agrees the current jail isn’t ideal, but says county voters have already made their decision.

“The voters have already spoken three times,” he said. “What we’re told by our elected officials is that people who voted need to be educated. It’s almost a disrespectful way of saying you’re not smart enough to vote on this.”

Chatterton’s solution is to repair the problems in the current jail and make it last until a different answer is found.

A partnership with Gooding County once its new jail is built, looking into a private company to fund the construction of a Jerome jail, or simply building a smaller jail that would cost taxpayers less money are all possibilities, he said.

“Cut out the office space,” he said. “That cuts out $2 million.”

Money spent on transporting inmates to and from other jails may be expensive, but it is far less than it costs to run a new jail, Chatterton said.

“If conditions are so horrible, why not close the jail and get people out of there?” he asked.

Many of the dangers commissioners and McFall warn of are just scare tactics to justify new offices and a fancier jail, Chatterton said.

“They’ll say anything to get what they want,” he said.

But with well-documented compliance issues, county officials have called conditions at the jail a potential disaster they’ve been lucky enough to avoid so far.

On May 15, voters will again have their say about how they value those issues.

Copyright 2015 Twin Falls Times-News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(5) Comments

    Report Abuse
    CLDHLB - May 08, 2012 8:20 pm
    When was the Jerome High School buit? Really we want to improve the lives of inmates who have commited crimes to get themselves lock up, but just remodel on the high school? Where are our priorities? Schools or lawbreaking citizens??? Not even a question, the high school is good enough, so is the jail, give it a rest already!
  2. Brent Myers
    Report Abuse
    Brent Myers - May 08, 2012 6:09 pm
    The following is a list of questions I asked Jerome County Prosecutor John Horganfollowed by his response:

    Why did the county allowed the jail problem to get to this point?
    Are not the county commissioners responsible to stay informed on the status of the jail?
    Who fell asleep at the switch?
    Dose the county have a plan to see that this dose not happen again with the new jail?

    The citizens of this County fell asleep at the switch. Numerous public meetings over the past twenty years have addressed our jail situation. Commissioners, Sheriffs, and the folks (ICRMP/Jail Standards) who inspect our jail have been sounding the alarm for, yes, twenty years.

    Perhaps the Commissioners and Sheriffs for those twenty years have done too good a job “making do”. Jerome County has come to the point where all that “making do” has resulted in a very difficult situation.

    The Commissioner’s current plan appears to incorporate future expansion if needed. Their hard work and planning relating to facilities needs should ensure smooth sailing for years to come.

    The future of the Jerome County Jail is once again in the hands of the voters. Hopefully, the voters eyes are wide open.

    John Horgan

    I believe our elected officials failed us and they were the ones asleep at the switch not the citizens of Jerome County.

    As mush as I want to believe in our county commissioners and our sheriff I have found them to be unwilling or unable to answered the simplest of questions about the jail bond issue. This behavior only ads to the peoples lack of trust in their elected officials. Those who we have voted in to run our government must remember they work for us and that we must demand that they be accountable and respond to our questions. I am not disagreeing that we need a new jail I do disagree with how the county is going about addressing the issue they need to look at what the problem is not the symptoms. The jail being over crowded is a symptom of the problems with the counties justices system and it is bigger than the jail. If we don’t look at the bigger issue we will be back 5 10 15 years from now talking about the need for a bigger jail again. The other symptom is the condition of the jail. Our county commissioners have a duty to see that the jail is properly funded and maintained. The physical problems in the jail did not happen over night they happened over time. I know for a fact that 2 of our commissioners have been in office for several years and were ether asleep at the switch or chose to ignore the problems allowing them to exacerbate to the point they are now. In ether case their failing to act is going to cost the tax payers of Jerome County millions of dollars that we don’t have right now.
  3. kat
    Report Abuse
    kat - May 08, 2012 5:33 pm
    God lets hope chatterton doesn't get sheriff cuz then there goes jerome.
  4. Andre Leonard
    Report Abuse
    Andre Leonard - May 08, 2012 10:02 am
    I sure hope anyone who has any doubts will contact Sheriff McFall or his Jail Commander, and see first hand just how much a new jail is needed. At 38 years of age, it has meet it's jail service life and can no longer safely house inmates.

    The fact presented that Jerome county now spends $250,000 a year housing inmates in nearby counties is not wise either. Every four years, that's $1 million that Jerome County could put to better use, like paying for it's own modern jail.

    Jerome County has a unique opportunity to be able to house it's own inmates in a manner that provides for the safety it's of inmates, staff and the public.

    38 years ago, county government did not know inmate populations would grow to 60 to 80 inmates a day. Times change and jail populations increase. To make matters worse, this jail has no dedicated female areas. Today one out of every 5 inmates is female. Jerome County has to take these females to the Twin Falls County Jail. That's not fair.

    The sheriff's opponent states that Jerome County should just make do with a jail that costs the taxpayers unnecessary money to operate, does not meet Idaho jail standards and can never pass a jail accreditation inspection. That's just not good business sense for anyone,
    much less a county sheriff.

    If your concerned about public safety and believe that Jerome deserves to have jail to house it's own inmates and not spend it's money paying other counties to house it's inmates. Vote yes on the Jerome Jail bond initiative.
  5. SolarX
    Report Abuse
    SolarX - May 08, 2012 5:09 am
    “We need a jail to protect our citizens,” Jerome County Commissioner Roger Morley said. “To be a responsible society we need a place to put those who offend the laws of our land.”

    How about we stop criminalizing everything under the sun? People forget that this is "the land of the free". Yet we seem to have the largest prison system in the world. That right there should tell you that something is seriously wrong with our legal/justice/jail system. New jails won't solve the problems that the current jail has.

    I've yet to see a full list of items that the jail isn't compliant with. Why not publish this list and then possibly start coming up with solutions for them. Wasting the money of the citizens isn't a solution. Jerome currently has 80 inmates and will spend MILLIONS of dollars to gain the ability to house 50 more. I guarantee that before the bond for the jail could be paid off the jail will be full again.

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