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Snake River Juvenile Detention Center

A sign greets visitors Sept. 16, 2016 outside the Snake River Juvenile Detention Center in Twin Falls.

TWIN FALLS — County leaders are going forward with plans to move youth detention to the County West building as part of an effort to ease an overcrowded jail system.

Twin Falls County is in the initial stages of remodeling a section of the third floor of County West into a youth detention center. County West, the former Magic Valley Regional Medical Center, houses several county services, including the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The remodel would allow the county to move the youth court system to the facility to go along with several other youth services already there.

The plan would help “ease some of the pressure” felt in the downtown jail, said Commissioner Brent Reinke.

“We’re trying to find other alternatives for adult housing and yet the efficiencies that this is going to offer and how we’re going to work with families and kids that are already at this location is really going to be a plus,” Reinke said.

The concept would move those now held at the Snake River Juvenile Detention Center to County West. Commissioners could then approve moving up to 27 adult male inmates from the downtown jail to the Snake River facility, and gradually add modular units there to alleviate crowding, Reinke said.

Voters rejected a $25 million bond earlier this month which would have added 316 beds in modular units at the Snake River Juvenile Detention Center to house the county’s entire adult male inmate population.

Moving youth detention to County West would not have been paid for under the bond, but was part of the county’s overall plan to reduce jail crowding. No cost estimate for the project is available, and the facility would likely not be operational until summer, Reinke said.

The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission on Tuesday approved rezoning part of County West to allow a detention center. County officials attended the meeting to present their plan and answer concerns.

A small portion of the third floor of County West is not still not authorized for a jail. The county plans to return to planning and zoning following approval by City Council to request that portion be included.

The section of County West will be outfitted as a true detention center, Beer said, adding a psychiatric ward previously occupied the building and much of the infrastructure is already in place. Children will be supervised at all times and most people using the building likely won’t notice them, he said. Beer was adamant that adults will never be housed in the detention center.

“Most tenants will never know these kids are there,” Beer said. “We don’t see any negative impact on any of our neighbors.”

About 11 youth would be detained there at a time, with capacity for up to 20, he said.

A recreation area will be built outside, he said.

Commissioners recently formed a committee to look at other solutions for easing overcrowding at the jail. That could include adding modular units at the current jail facility or the Snake River facility, said Commissioner Jack Johnson.

“We’re still looking at the whole picture because we still got 80 people sleeping on the floor that we’ve got to find a solution for,” he said.

The county would attempt to absorb the cost of the units into its capital outlay budget, which could have gone to improvements at the court system had the bond passed, he said. There currently are no plans to cut county services to pay for jail expansion, he said.

“We want to avoid any budgets cuts at this time.”

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