A record number of inmates jammed the Kootenai County Jail Monday morning, leaving inmates sleeping on floors and tempers flaring in the cramped cells.
Although the facility is certified to hold 123 inmates, 162 inmates were locked behind bars, said jail Lt. Joe Eisenbrandt. Nearby at the Juvenile Detention Center 31 youths were locked down. The center is supposed to house 18.
“I had 23 people lying on the floors in various parts of the jail. We cooked 191 meals this morning. It’s a zoo around here,” Eisenbrandt said.
Monday’s record is a just a peak in the ongoing crowding problem at the Kootenai County Jail and the Juvenile Detention Center.
The jail set its last record of 159 inmates in July 1994. Such high inmate numbers caused the facility to lose its certification through the Idaho Sheriff’s Association last September.
Jail officials say they don’t expect to regain that certification this year.
“Overcrowding is one of the most serious problems that you can have,” said Judy Felton, jail standards coordinator for the Idaho Sheriff’s Association. “It impacts every other facet of the jail.”
Eisenbrandt said he had to call in extra deputies and kept deputies on longer shifts to handle all the inmates during the weekend and Monday.
With all the beds taken up, inmates were given mattress rolls to sleep on the floors. Five men were put in the recreation room in the women’s wing of the jail.
By Monday afternoon deputies had broken up a fight among the inmates.
“Tempers flare because there is so many people jampacked into such a small space,” Eisenbrandt explained.
At the juvenile detention center youths made their beds on the floor. For the last nine months the center has averaged 26 youths a day and had up to 35, said center director Al Friesen.
Jail officials say they typically see their inmate numbers rise in the summer. But they fear a peak so early in the year indicates this summer’s numbers will be astronomical, Eisenbrandt said.
If numbers continue to rise, Eisenbrandt fears the jail is leaving itself open for a lawsuit and or a federal cap that would strictly limit the number of inmates.
Last year an inmate tripped over one of the floor mattresses and required stitches on his head, Eisenbrandt said.
If a cap is placed on the jail, the facility would be forced to ship any inmates over 123 to other jails in the state, Felton said.
But she said that many of the jails that typically hold prisoners from overcrowded facilities are often themselves full.
Eisenbrandt said the Kootenai County Jail is trying to deal with the problem.
Almost 30 bunks are being added to various cells to help get the inmates off the floors. Still, Eisenbrandt admits the solution does little to relieve the crowding problem.
For certification, each cell must have 40 square feet per inmate. Adding an extra bunk to the cell merely squeezes two people into the same 40 feet, it doesn’t increase the number of inmates the jail is certified to hold.
An architect is studying the jail’s space needs for the Kootenai County Commission and should have a report to them by later this month, said Commissioner Dick Compton.
“It is a big concern to us,” he said. “There’s a point at which it becomes not just an inconvenience but a very real legal issue.”
One of the most serious options for the county is to build a facility for minimum security and work release inmates.
Such a facility would cost less to build as it would not have to meet higher security requirements. Jail officials say such a building ideally should have at least 125 beds.
Construction on an eight-bed expansion began at the Juvenile Detention Center last week. It will cost about $280,000 and is due to be complete in September.
The expansion will raise the number of kids it is certified to hold from 18 to 26.
“My fear is, in looking at our population trend, within a year we’ll be right at 40 kids,” Friesen said.
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