New jail pondered
By: Joe Albert, Staff Reporter, Alexandria Echo Press
The Douglas County Board of Commissioners has taken the first preliminary steps toward exploring a new jail in Douglas County.
At its meeting last Tuesday, the board appointed two co-chairs for a task force charged with exploring options relating to the possibility of a new jail facility. The co-chairs are Bill Schalow, Douglas County coordinator, and Dennis Nagle, director of Pope/Douglas Solid Waste.
“It’s more of a basic plan-ning thing right now,” said Commissioner Dan Olson, who previously had looked into whether there was adequate need for a task force. “It’s something we really need to look at seriously and study.”
More people will be ap-pointed to the task force and it should be in place and meeting by September. The task force would likely hire someone to do a study with regards to the possibilities.
The task force should be ready with a decision within six months or a year, according to Douglas County Sheriff Bill Ingebrigtsen.
“At the rate we are incarcerating, I hope it’s the six months,” Ingebrigtsen said.
At this point, there are no specifics about the shape or scope of the potential jail pro-ject.
“I think every rock should be turned over,” Ingebrigtsen said. “It’s as wide open as it can be.”
The main problem with the current Douglas County Jail is overcrowding, Ingebrigtsen said.
“The overcrowding situation is not only for the prisoners, it’s also risky for the jailers,” he said.
At the 66-bed minimum security jail, located above the Douglas County Law Enforcement Center, about 60 beds per day are filled. That jail houses state prisoners and those from other counties, in addition to Douglas County prisoners.
Across the street at the 27-bed main jail – which houses sentenced and waiting-to-be-sentenced prisoners – all beds are full of Douglas County prisoners.
State guidelines suggest that a prison should be 70 percent full to operate effec-tively.
Since the main jail is full, the county spends an average of $160,000 per year to send prisoners to other counties. Each day, about six county prisoners are transferred to other jails.
“We are spending a lot of money housing prisoners out of the county right now,” Olson said. “I know and can see where we badly need a facility… I don’t think we can wait much longer.”
The National Institute of Justice did an audit of the Douglas County Jail in 2002 and recommended that the county take a look at expanding the facility, partly because the jail was outdated and there were overcrowding issues.
Though the county’s budget is very tight right now, Ingebrigtsen believes that a new jail facility is important.
“It’s going to cost a lot of money and we don’t have any,” Ingebrigtsen said. “But there’s absolutely going to be a need here with all the growth.”
If a study were to be commissioned, the researchers would have to take into account the projected population of the county, “instead of building it for right now and having to do it again in 10 years,” Ingebrigtsen said.
The entire system of justice would also benefit from a new jail because people could be locked up right away, rather than being given the opportunity to help decide when they’ll do their time.
Since the jails are full right now, judges sometimes don’t have the option to put someone in jail. Putting someone in jail for relatively minor of-fenses helps ensure they don’t commit another, larger crime, Ingebrigtsen said.
“If they are going to do the crime they should do the time,” Ingebrigtsen said. “If you don’t take care of the small things you can’t stop the big things.”
At this point, there is nothing concrete with regard to a new jail. Such basic questions as location and cost have not been addressed and it’s not clear whether or not a new jail would take the place of or supplement the current facilities.
Ingebrigtsen urges the public to get involved in the process, since they’ll ultimately pay for it.
“It’s the public’s jail just as well as it is the public’s library,” Ingebrigtsen said. “But if we don’t have a jail we are going to have to house prisoners somewhere else.”