Allamakee County Public Safety Committee shares its findings (part 2)

The first part of this three-part series, printed in the September 24 edition of The Standard, gave an overview of the process the Public Safety Committee has taken to make the recommendation to build a new Public Safety center at the County Farm and to send a $4.9 million bond referendum to the citizens of Allamakee County for a vote in November.
This second part of the series will take a look specifically at federal and state requirements for jail facilities as they relate to the shortcomings of of the current facility and how those same regulations determine the size and space needs of the new facility.
All jail facilities in the State of Iowa are inspected annually and Allamakee County is no different. For the last several years, annual inspection reports have noted that the current jail facility does not meet state and federal requirements for housing prisoners. There has been discussion for the last few years of the possibility of having the jail shut down altogether as a result of these ongoing violations.
The County has been able to make come changes to meet some of the requirements, but at this point there is nothing more to be done short of building a new facility to meet safety and prisoner separation requirements.
As noted by jail inspectors, there is no safe and secure way to evacuate the inmates from the jail in case of emergency. In addition, the public is at risk when prisoners are brought into the jail facility as a public elevator or stairway is used to take the prisoners to the fourth floor of the building.
Due to the lack of secure storage, the jail is also in violation of the privacy rights of the prisoners by not having adequate locked storage for their records and personal belongings due to a shortage of space on the fourth floor of the courthouse.
A federal law passed during the George W. Bush presidency, the Prison Rape Elimination Act, requires that all jail facilities have a classification system to separate prisoners who are potential victims of violence by other prisoners and prisoners who are likely to commit that violence. When a prisoner is arrested and brought in, jail personnel are to determine the classification of the inmate. There are seven classifications, with the two most obvious being male/female and adult/juvenile. Others include felon/misdemeanant, pretrial/sentenced, witnesses /suspects, violent persons, health risk persons, sexually deviant behaviors or those who may be likely to be victimized or exploited by others.
Inmates at the county jail have been arrested for domestic violence, driving while suspended, speeding, reckless driving, interference with official acts, sexual abuse, domestic abuse, aggravated and serious assault, criminal mischief, disorderly conduct, OWI, assault with a deadly weapon, manufacturing of methamphetamines, possession of drugs, public intoxication, theft, and more. What happens now is that all of these inmates are housed in the same area because there are only two areas in which to house male prisoners and only one for women. The jail inspector has pointed out that the current facility is not capable of adequately separating prisoners based on classification requirements.
In addition to safety and classification requirements, jails must have noise barriers, an exercise room not less than 500 square feet and 18 feet high and with 15 square feet per prisoner, adequate water supply and adequate lighting. Right now the facility does not meet any of these requirements. The proposed $4.9 million facility has been designed to meet these minimum requirements for 75 to 100 years.
In many ways this process has been an eye-opening one. Not all of us understood federal and state requirements for  jail facilities or why so many classification areas are necessary. We recognize  that a 27-bed facility that can later be expanded to 40 beds if necessary sounds very large, but the committee has determined this to be the minimum size to meet the County’s current and future needs. The jail is being designed with the most critical eye to bare minimum need and bare minimum cost.
The cost to individual taxpayers has also been a continual concern of the committee. Northland Securities, hired as the County’s financial consultant for this project, has provided the following estimates based on total property valuations in the County, the maximum bond amount of $4.9 million and current interest rates:
Residential home owners: a $50,000 assessment will cost $12.77 per year; $100,000 will cost $25.54 per year; and $150,000 - $38.31 per year. That amounts to about 11 to 30 bottles of pop a year. Commercial rates are about 75% higher than that amount, while agricultural land will cost around 28 cents per acre annually.
Throughout this process it has been the intention of the committee to recommend what is just, fair and in the best interest of the citizens of Allamakee County. This November, it will be up to voters to decide.
Any questions about this project may be directed to any committee member or Sheriff Clark Mellick. More information about the project may also be view on the Sheriff’s Department website.
The final part of this three-part series will focus on the projected costs in the event that the bond referendum does not pass and the current facility is forced to close.

Members of the Allamakee County Public Safety Committee: Kris Ward, Clark Mellick, Kris Kovarik, Rev Lonning, Natasha Wilkes, Ardie Kuhse, Mike Kruckenberg, Tim Bulman, Chris Fee, Laura Olson, Carol Jeglum, Dan Cole Sr., Glen Jevne