County officials see need for new jail facilityThe first steps in the planning process for the new Douglas County Jail are under way.
By: Brandon Otte, Staff Reporter, Alexandria Echo Press
The first steps in the planning process for the new Douglas County Jail are under way.
Vetter Johnson, the architectural firm planning the jail project, went before the county board Tuesday to explain the procedure.
Steve Johnson of Vetter Johnson said the firm will start with a study involving every department that will be using the new facility. The study uses interviews to determine just what the new facility must be able to do and to plan for future uses.
“We need to get a feel for crime in the county,” Johnson said. “We’re a little bit ahead of the game from where we would normally be. The county already has many of the reports that the architects would start by making.”
Sheriff Bill Ingebrigtsen said the interviews have been going very well so far. He said there has good cooperation between all the departments involved in criminal justice, from courts to the sheriff’s office to city police.
“The city has been a big player in all of this,” Ingebrigtsen said. He said the new facility will house both the sheriff’s office and the city police department.
“Keeping the law enforcement behind one door is something the people of the county have grown to expect,” Ingebrigtsen said.
Johnson said by determining the uses and prisoner capacity the county needs, the firm can work backward to design a facility that would also meet state standards and regulations.
He said the county has already gathered a lot of the information and statistics that normally begin the planning process. Once the uses and plans for the new facility are known, the firm can start to look at possible building sites.
Mark Vetter of Vetter and Johnson said choosing a site may be difficult.
‘There’s a lot of complexity in picking a site, but it boils down to a few key issues,” Vetter said.
He said some of the key factors in choosing a site are land availability and making sure the facility has room to grow in the future. It is also important to keep more basic things in mind, like utilities.
“Construction cost is expensive, but we have all these things on top of it, like utilities,” Vetter said.
Johnson said the study would be important for the construction of the jail, but it won’t directly result in a schematic drawing of the new facility. He said the report will give a rough idea of what is needed and from that information, a schematic and building layout can be drawn up.
Ingebrigtsen said the interviewing by Vetter Johnson will be completed by January.
Johnson said there are three kinds of jail facilities. Currently, Douglas County has a linear corridor layout in its jail, which means low visibility and possible danger for the officers. The state requires one officer for every 24 prisoners with this layout.
“Our assumption is that Douglas County will go to a direct supervision layout,” Johnson said. A direct supervision layout requires one officer for every 60 prisoners.
Bill McKay, lieutenant sheriff, said the current jail has a lot of problems. He said most of the prisoners in other jails across the country are mentally ill and need to be separated for their own safety and the safety of the other prisoners.
“We can’t classify, separate or segregate prisoners because the facility is too small,” McKay said.
The commissioners agreed that the facility is no longer what the county needs.
“I went through the old jail last week and I wouldn’t work there for all the tea in China,” Commissioner Paul Anderson said.
McKay said the jail would also serve the surrounding counties. He said many of the area sheriffs have said they plan on using the new facility to house many of their prisoners awaiting trial.
Ingebrigtsen said the county already houses some prisoners from different counties. He said the charge is $55 a day.
“We’re generating a significant amount of money to offset our budget,” Ingebrigtsen said.
He said the county doesn’t have any set contracts with those other counties right now because there hasn’t been a need for any. With the new facility, Ingebrigtsen said he would probably develop contracts to guarantee bed space to each county.