TWIN FALLS — Twin Falls County commissioners are taking steps to address the immediate need for more inmate housing.
More than 30 inmates were displaced after a fire broke out Nov. 24, 2018, in an annex of the Twin Falls County Jail. The electrical fire was in one of three mobile jail pods the jail has to handle overflow for lower-risk inmates.
The three pods were installed in 1994. Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Doug Hughes told the Commission on Friday the upkeep of the units has been difficult, and all three are showing their age. Commissioners voted unanimously to pursue a request for proposals, contingent upon legal review, to replace all three annexes.
“They were like a five-year solution when they were put in,” Commissioner Jack Johnson told the Times-News. “They’ve way outlived their lifespan.”
The county is overdue for a larger jail, but commissioners estimate that will be at least four years out.
“The jail staff is constantly looking for out-of-county housing,” Johnson said.
The jail population has leveled off over the winter, he said, but it is expected to increase as the weather warms up. Earlier this week, there were 42 inmates being housed in other counties, but the average is about 50 per day, Johnson said. That includes a 25-bed contract with the Jerome County Jail. Inmates are also housed in Blaine County, Cassia County, Elmore County and as far away as Fremont, Lewis and Valley counties.
Two of the three mobile units can hold around 30 beds, and a third holds 16 beds. Commissioners intend to make them all double-wide units capable of holding 30 beds. Commissioner Don Hall had cautioned against increasing the jail’s footprint too much because it would require the county to secure a new special use permit through the city.
Twin Falls County Facilities Director Jeff Climer said the expected lifespan of the new pods would be around 30 years. But commissioners plan to solve the overcrowding problem long before then.
“This is not a long-term solution,” Hall said. “This is a temporary solution.”
Also on Friday, the commission unanimously approved a request to add a third civil attorney to the county prosecutor’s office. That will come at a cost of around $80,000 including salary and benefits, Hall said.
“The office is being overwhelmed with the two personnel in there — and these are two sharp attorneys,” he said.
The office is also experiencing some shuffling around as Chief Civil Deputy Prosecutor Rosemary Emory was appointed to a vacant judgeship in the Fifth Judicial Court, County Prosecutor Grant Loebs said. With a new chief deputy and a new deputy civil prosecutor in the department, the office will feel the strain even more so than usual, he said.
“We just don’t have the manpower to address things in as timely manner as they probably should,” Loebs said.
And the office hasn’t been able to be forward-looking, out of concerns of falling behind, he said. The civil prosecutor’s office was expanded to two people about 21 years ago and briefly had a third position in the ‘90s before losing it due to budget cuts.