An American Civil Liberties Union attorney has threatened to sue Bonneville County unless it does something about crowding in its jail by the middle of next week.
“What I do depends entirely on what they do,” Denver-based attorney Stephen Pevar said Monday.
The ACLU has been threatening Bonneville County with a lawsuit over crowded jail conditions since 1993. To avoid a suit, the county has agreed to cap the number of prisoners in the jail at 49.
Even so, the average daily inmate population has hovered in the 60s this year. And Bonneville County’s contract to house 45 of its extra prisoners at the Bannock County Jail in Pocatello expired Tuesday.
Last year, the Bonneville County Commission spent about $800,000 to house excess prisoners in jails outside the county. This year, the goal is to reduce that to about $200,000.
Sheriff Byron Stommel said he has been preparing for the prisoner flood for several weeks by gradually removing inmates from the Bannock County Jail. Some have been brought to the county jail in Idaho Falls and others have been given alternative sentences such as the county’s new work detail program. As of Monday only 16 prisoners were left at the Pocatello jail, and only about four or five of those were bound for the Bonneville County Jail. The others will go to jails in Burley and Clark County.
To appease the ACLU, Stommel said he has hired five new jailers, and now the goal is to keep the maximum daily population in the jail at 75.
Stommel said he thinks he can dodge a lawsuit by using the extra guards to allow prisoners more opportunity to exercise in the secure outdoor area next to the jail. The sheriff said he also hopes judges will help the county by considering more alternative sentences.
“I’m looking for some flexibility because, I say, ‘Hell yes, the ACLU can sue.’ And they probably will,” Stommel said.
The long-term solution is to open a new 280-bed jail in early 1998, but a separate lawsuit has snarled construction plans for that facility.