TWIN FALLS — Twin Falls’ criminal justice facilities are getting cramped.
“We’ve ran out of space for additional staff, so as we’ve added staff we’ve had to put another desk on top of another desk,” said County Clerk Kristina Glascock, who oversees the deputy court clerks who work in the Theron W. Ward Judicial Building downtown.
And the number of court cases in that building has been going up.
“Five years ago I didn’t have a special prosecutor just to handle probation violations,” said Grant Loebs, the county’s top prosecutor. “I have a person who does nothing but that now.”
More cases means more hearings, which means you need a place to hold the hearings in.
“The question is, looking into the future, we have two district courtrooms (now),” Loebs said. “We’re going to need more. We’re going to have a need for expansion in the jail probably in the next few years.”
The James R. Munn Adult Detention Facility next to the court building has been filled almost to its 224-inmate capacity for the past couple of months, said Capt. Doug Hughes, the jail’s administrator — there were 223 inmates last Thursday. The county boards some inmates in other counties at a cost of $50 to $55 a day. About 87 percent of the people in the jail are felons, Hughes said, so releasing more of them isn’t really an option.
“If we keep going at the rate we’re going, eventually we’re going to run into a cap where we can’t move any inmates and we don’t have enough beds,” he said. “That whole crowding issue becomes a real problem when you get down to it.”
A lack of beds at the jail isn’t the only space issue there.
“Right now our administration offices are beaten-up old trailers and Conexes,” said Commissioner Terry Kramer. “It’s just ridiculous.
A few years ago most county government functions were moved from the old county courthouse near Shoshone Street and Fourth Avenue North to their current home in the County West building on Addison Avenue. However, the judicial building, which was built in 1967, and the jail, which was built in 1988, are still in use, and both are running out of space as the county grows and the number of cases, inmates and staff to handle it all grows too.
County commissioners have hired LCA Architects of Boise, which has a long track record of designing jails, courts and law enforcement buildings elsewhere in Idaho and in nearby states, to do a space-needs study on the two buildings. A week ago, they met with LCA Vice President Russ Moorhead to discuss the scope of the study.
Moorhead plans to interview the people who use the buildings to see what they need, look at the history of caseloads and jail populations and try to project the future space needs, and how many people will be using the buildings a few decades down the road.
Kramer said the lack of meeting spaces in the current courthouse and the design of the public spaces and crowd flows is one of the major shortfalls of the current building. Improving customer service would also have to be addressed — for example, he said, all fines are paid in the same place right now. Keeping the judges separate from the public, and the public separate from the inmates being brought in, would have to be considered as well, Moorhead said.
“Those all have to be built into that infrastructure so we’re not remodeling this five years down the road,” Kramer said.
As for the jail, Moorhead plans to study the history of the average daily population and try to project the future. One thing that makes this tricky, Kramer said, is this can depend on state policy — the jail population fell after the problem-solving courts were established, but has been going up again, which Kramer attributed partially to the 2014 passage of the Justice Reinvestment Act.
“The Legislature has a lot to do with your jail population,” Kramer said. “You can’t really foresee what’s going to happen.”
“It’s kind of like driving forward by looking in a rear-view mirror,” Moorhead said. “You can’t do it very well, but you can do it.”
The issue isn’t new — the county did a space-needs study in 2006, and last year county commissioners voted to set aside $8 million for future improvements to the judicial building. The need is quite visible at the jail, where a trailer and a shipping container were attached to the front of the building more than a decade ago to serve as office space. In the back are a few more trailers used as housing for low-risk inmates. These were intended at the time as temporary fixes.
On the way to the office trailer and Conex, you pass through a break room too small for any seating — deputies typically warm up their lunches there, then go elsewhere to eat — and then past boxes of records that need to be stored for years before being destroyed and are being kept there because there isn’t anywhere else to put them. Both the trailer and the Conex are cramped and showing their age — leaking ceilings, weather stripping peeling off. People who have business at the administrative trailer walk up to a small window, placed so low the people inside have to crouch to accept payments.
The trailers where some inmates are housed aren’t in any better shape, visibly weathered on the outside. The smell of mold hits you when you walk in. And the areas of the judicial building where the deputy court clerks spend their days aren’t very comfortable either, with desks pushed up against each other and little space for them to work. Glascock, the county clerk, said there isn’t any room for more staff, and the courtrooms and jury rooms are too small. And many days, she said, there aren’t enough courtrooms for traveling judges to hear cases.
So far, the discussion has mostly been about keeping the jail and the courthouse at the same site. Moving the jail and courthouse to different places is one possibility under consideration, but this would bring added transportation expenses. Also, the county already owns lots near the current facilities, which would give more space to expand.
After the preliminary study is done, Moorhead said he would bring in a citizens committee and start public outreach efforts. Public involvement is particularly important, Moorhead said, because the project will likely need to be paid for with a voter-approved bond.
“I think that’s really important once you get an idea of where we’re going,” Kramer said. “If they don’t get buy-in you’re never going to get this thing passed.”
County commissioners stressed that they would like whatever is built to last for several decades. And Kramer said the new courthouse can’t be a “gymnasium-looking building.”
“It needs to look like a court,” he said. “It needs to have authority and it needs to be something that you’re proud of down the road.”