TWIN FALLS — County commissioners — faced with an urgent need for a new jail but also looking to avoid taxpayer sticker shock — are now considering a “musical chair” solution to housing inmates.
The new plan would move male inmates to modular jail units installed at the current home of the Snake River Juvenile Detention Center. Juvenile detention would move into the County West building. And the current jail downtown would be used to house women inmates and holding prisoners awaiting court hearings.
The plan, which would avoid the need to build a new $50 million jail, was discussed Aug. 5 by county commissioners.
Commissioners Brent Reinke, Jack Johnson and Don Hall said they want to limit the burden on taxpayers while ensuring the safety of inmates and the employees who supervise them.
“For months, we’ve been looking at the judicial complex,” Hall said. The consensus that the present jail’s time has come and gone is clear, he said, with decisions needing to be made so a potential bond issue can be placed on the November election.
Presenting the taxpayers of Twin Falls County with a $50 million price tag isn’t feasible, Hall said.
Johnson said he and Capt. Doug Hughes of the Twin Falls County Jail visited All Detainment Solutions LLC in Missouri last year. The company builds modular jail units that house inmates.
To provide units with a capacity of 316 beds for Twin Falls County, the price would be approximately $21 million, Johnson said.
Hughes said the security provided by the units, built of steel, are designed to meet the classification of inmates housed by the county.
“They’re put together really well,” he said, and are expected to last 50 years.
Hall noted that the modular units could not be placed at the present jail site. The current jail was grandfathered on the site, which isn’t zoned for that purpose, he said. Expanding the jail would involve a complex process with the Planning and Zoning Committee, the city and other agencies.
“I don’t know if I’d like to have a 500-bed jail across from City Park,” Hall said.
And services could better be provided to youth offender by moving juvenile detention from Wright Avenue to the third floor of the County West building and relocating the juvenile probation offices to the same site, Reinke said.
Some renovations would be necessary, but since part of the County West building, which was previously a hospital, was originally constructed as a mental health facility, the construction would be minimal.
That part of the plan has received favorable feedback from personnel in charge of juvenile programs, Reinke said.
“They’re very excited about the possibility of this happening,” he said.
The old juvenile detention building would then become the hub of the county jail housing adult male inmates, with modular units placed on the site, Johnson said.
The kitchen of the juvenile detention building would need to be expanded, and other support areas refined, Johnson said.
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“It would alleviate a lot of pressure on a jail that is non-functional,” Hughes said.
The modular units could be purchased outright, Johnson said, or leased for a period of 14 or 16 years. The leasing cost, depending on the term, would run between $1.5 million and $1.7 million per year.
By pursuing this option, the county would have a vastly increased capacity, which could be used to generate revenue by housing inmates from neighboring counties, Hall said.
Johnson also said that if the state Legislature approves a local sales tax option, it could be used to fund the jail.
The county also needs to renovate the judicial annex, which also needs more space.
“If the courts are backed up, the jail is backed up,” Johnson said.
One idea briefly considered was moving the courts to the County West building. This was discarded as impractical, however, with the prosecutors’ offices, public defenders’ offices and many attorneys’ offices near the current courthouse.
Lombard Conrad Architects of Boise presented a design for a three-story addition to the judicial annex, which the commissioners favored.
The cost for that addition would be approximately $29 million, Hall said.
The commissioners must decide whether funding either or both projects should be placed on November’s ballot.
“We should take one bite of the apple first,” Hall said, favoring the jail as the more urgent need.
The commissioners asked County Clerk Kristina Glascock how soon they need to act to get a bond issue placed on the ballot.
“Now,” Glascock said.
Commissioners need to consult a bond counsel and financial advisor, then have the bond language ready for a vote by mid-September, she said.
“We’ve beat this thing to death,” Glascock said. “We need to make a decision.”
“The next time we meet, this will be an action item.”