March 30, 1998 in Nation/World

Kootenai County Jail Officials Call For Help Administrators Hope Visit By Consultants Is First Step Toward Streamlined Justice System, More Cell Space

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Saying they are out of options, Kootenai County Jail administrators are asking for help in solving chronic crowding problems.

Dozens of cells in the 11-year-old jail are double-bunked. Mattresses in others are thrown on the floor to squeeze an extra inmate into an already cramped cell.

Office and storage space is minimal. The tight quarters leave tempers short.

“We’re tapped out,” said sheriff’s Capt. Travis Chaney, the jail commander. “We have nowhere else to go.”

Consultants from the National Institute of Corrections from Colorado will be in town for three days this week to study the criminal justice system. The consulting team will interview dozens of people today and Tuesday who work or have contact with the system.

A community meeting Wednesday will wrap up the consultants’ trip.

While the jail’s crowding problem prompted the visit, Chaney said recommendations from the consultants will focus on making the criminal justice system as a whole more efficient. However, extra jail space likely will be among the suggestions.

“Currently, what we need is more housing space,” Chaney said.

Local, state and federal law enforcement officers, county commissioners, health and welfare workers and Rotary Club members are among the 53 interviews scheduled.

A swelling county population, tough-on-crime legislation and more arrests for crimes such as drunken driving and child molestation have contributed to the crowding problem, Chaney said.

Increases in the jail’s female population, juvenile offenders being charged as adults and crimes with multiple offenders have more recently added to the space crunch.

Juveniles must be housed separately from adults. Inmates charged in connection with the same crime frequently cannot stay in the same cell.

“A jail isn’t just a building with four walls where we can just cram more people in,” Chaney said.

The jail, built in 1987 to house 95 inmates, now has a capacity of 127.

But, “we don’t see low numbers like that ever,” said jail Sgt. Ludwig Tomasini.

The inmate population hovers around 160. Weekend counts consistently climb above 170. The jail has not been certified by the Idaho Sheriff’s Association in more than four years.

Inmates are divided among different categories within the three main classifications of maximum, medium and minimum security. Most fall between the two extremes, making medium security space the tightest.

All extra storage and office space has already been converted into extra cells. Supplies such as extra food and blankets are now stored outside jail walls.

Crowding is eased by work-release and sheriff’s community labor programs available to qualified offenders who are serving jail sentences. Many of those inmates are housed with about a dozen others in cramped dormitory-style rooms because of their relatively low security risks.

That helps free individual cell space, but it’s a quick fix and not a long-term solution, Chaney said.

“We can’t just say, ‘We’re overcrowded, we’re going to kick some people out the front door,”’ Chaney said. “We can’t do that. There’s a process we have to adhere to.”

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story:

CROWDING

The jail, built in 1987 to house 95 inmates, now has a capacity of 127. The inmate population hovers around 160. Weekend counts consistently climb above 170.

This sidebar appeared with the story: CROWDING The jail, built in 1987 to house 95 inmates, now has a capacity of 127. The inmate population hovers around 160. Weekend counts consistently climb above 170.


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