Females, juveniles housed in 100-year-old jail


-Katie Zerr

The replacement of a building constructed in 1913 that is currently housing female and juvenile prisoners is being researched and debated on the county level.

Walworth County Sheriff Duane Mohr and Chief Deputy Josh Boll have done the groundwork to show the need to replace the original section of the Walworth County Jail, which Mohr has said is dangerous to inmates and staff because of the manner of construction.

Renovations and repairs must also be made to the 1999 addition, which has had settling problems that created cracks and separation of walls in some parts of the jail.

The new facility and renovation of the newer section of the jail, a $4 million project, has been the topic of discussion at recent Walworth County Commissioners meetings.

Mohr and Boll contend the old jail presents safety and other issues and the newer section is in dire need of an update. Commissioner Duane Martin wants to wait on making any decisions on building a new facility until the impacts of change to the state’s judicial system brought about by Senate Bill 70, passed by the 2013 South Dakota Legislature, are understood.


Jail tour

On Thursday, Oct. 31, during a tour of the jail, Mohr and Boll emphasized that the facility is just no longer adequate to fill the needs of the county.

On Thursday, there were 14 prisoners being held at the facility down from 26 on Sunday, Oct. 27. The current facility, has two larger holding cells in the addition and two smaller holding cells, one used for male juveniles and one for female juvenile inmates, in the upstairs of old section of the jail. On the main floor of the old section, there is a cell used for female prisoners. The current capacity of the jail is 32 prisoners.

The stairway leading to the juvenile cells and the laundry facility on the second level of the old jail is very steep and presents a danger to the inmates and jail staff, according to Mohr. Totes of laundry are hauled up and down those stairs constantly throughout the day at the facility.

The bars and metal grates on the windows of the cells in the old jail are secured from the outside and cannot be removed from inside. Mohr said if there were to fire in the old jail, he worried they could not get the inmates out safely.

Mohr said the 100-year-old building has become a liability to the county.

The kitchen, which is small and contains equipment for a home kitchen, not constructed for industrial use, is used to prepare three meals a day inmates  plus the on-duty staff. Equipment storage is inadequate and the cupboards are showing years of wear and tear. Food for the inmates is stored in the small kitchen and in residential refrigerators and freezers in the garage of the jail.

Jailers on duty cook and serve the meals to the inmates. Mohr said he has researched having the meals brought into the jail from a near by senior citizens facility, but has found he can feed the inmates a dietician-approved menu throughout the week at about $3 a meal cheaper than it would be if the meals were cooked off-site.

A drainage problem that became evident soon after the construction of the addition has caused the concrete block building to settle. The settling has caused cracking in the walls and problems with doors at the facility. A door leading to the outside on the new addition cannot be used because it is wedged in the frame.

Mohr said there are many changes needed to bring the addition, which would remain with the construction of a new jail, up to safety standards for the inmates. The addition would become the holding area for juvenile inmates.

Two jailers are on duty at all times in a small control room (6.5 feet by 10-feet), with two monitors and 24 cameras on the system.

The proposed new facility (see architect’s rendering) will bring the jail capacity to 54 beds. It would add holding cells, interview rooms, five new office spaces, a new control room, a conference room and large recreation area. There would be a new kitchen area with industrial refrigeration and freezer spaces. New laundry and storage areas are also included in the new design.

HKG Architects in Aberdeen is working with Mohr and Boll on the design and Toby Morris, vice-president of public finance for Northland Securities, Pierre and James Rowenhorst, Jail Commander for the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office and jail consultant have both presented information to the commission on the funding and the need of a new facility at the Walworth County Jail site.

In the coming weeks, the Tribune will present further information about the need for a new facility, the impact of Senate Bill 70 on the judicial system and what that means for incarcerating facilities.



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