Senate Bill 70: Is there a need for new jail now?

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By Katie Zerr -

(Editor’s note: The following is a second in a series of stories related to the a proposed new jail in Walworth County. There will be others addressing the policy and legislative changes in South Dakota and what it means to Walworth County and how the residents feel about spending $4 million on a new jail, in the following weeks.)

The proposal for a new 32-bed jail at the Walworth County Courthouse to be added to the existing addition built in 1999, creating a 54-bed facility is not without detractors.  Walworth County Commissioner Duane Martin has voiced concern that building a new facility now, without knowing the impact of Senate Bill 70 passed in 2012, would be jumping the gun.

Commissioners and Walworth County Sheriff Duane Mohr have requested and received a feasibility study concerning the jail and the need for a new facility.

The feasibility study is designed to answer questions such as which is the best location for a new facility, future capacity needs, fiscal health, areas to be served, projected costs (estimated at $4 million), interest on the loan and projected long-term costs.

Jim Rowanhorst, jail commander, Pennington County Sheriff’s Office, Rapid City, worked with Toby Morris, Vice President of Public Finance, Northland Securities, Pierre, on the feasibility study.

The study revealed that the present facility, with some needed renovations, could be adequate until 2030. Rowenhorst suggested that better securing the control room and adding one extra jailer would help if the decision were made not to build. Currently renovations and plumbing upgrades are being made in the 1999 addition because of drainage and settling problems.

Senate Bill 70, passed in 2012, establishing alternative court programs for nonviolent offenders, will have an impact in the need for a new jail and the capacity of that facility.

It is believed by some that the legislation will increase the need for more beds on the county level.

Others interpret the law as an expansion of such programs as the 24/7 Program, which has helped to lower inmate population by allowing sentenced individuals to be closely monitored electronically but still remain within their community, gainfully employed.

It is believed by some that a regional jail could become a real revenue enhancer. At the present time, approximately $60,000 is generated by boarding inmates with the money deposited into the general fund. Some costs, such as electricity, heating, and maintenance will remain virtually the same, whether they operate marginally at one or at capacity. Presently there are 18 counties that participate in a contract with the jail plus the U.S. Marshals Office. The premise has been to become a regional facility with the building and renovation and continue taking in more inmates from the U.S. Marshall’s Office.

Walworth County has been named to take part in the pilot program in South Dakota because of the offenses that are seen in the court system, including individuals who are chemical dependent users, abusers and addicts.

The change of focus from incarceration to rehabilitation leads Martin to question the need for this facility if we do not know what the future holds for Walworth County. He has questioned whether building a new conventional jail would be a mistake at this time.

“We need more facilities,” he said in an earlier interview. “We have an adequate jail. Along with the alcohol-related and other misdemeanor offenders we have the mentally ill. Our jailers, sheriff and deputies have to deal with individuals.”

Martin said many misdemeanor offenders continue to come back to the jail for the same or similar offences.

“We are not helping these individuals. What we should be doing is talking about this on the county, city in the courts,” he said. “They keep falling through the cracks. They keep returning to the same environment.”

Martin said the legislation addresses some of these concerns and education, training and rehabilitation are what is on the horizon for South Dakota.

“A typical jail is not the answer right now,” he said. “But we do need a facility to meet the needs of the people in Walworth County. The goal is to help people become contributing members of society.”

Through the legislation and nationwide programs the move is towards rehabilitation rather than incarceration. Over-crowded prisons are a problem not only in South Dakota, but many states. Judge Scott Myron of the Fifth Circuit Court is part of Gov. Denis Daugaard’s committee on reform, HOPE Probation. The prototype for the program was launched by Judge Steven Alm in 2004 in Hawaii to reduce probation violations by drug offenders and others at high risk of recidivism. Those in HOPE Probation receive immediate punishments, such as several days in jail, for violations such as detected drug use or missed appointments with a probation officer.

Other established programs, such as the 24/7 Program, are becoming increasingly recognized for the ability to modify an individual’s behavior, keeping nonviolent offenders in their homes and gainfully employed while still being monitored, eliminating the need for building additional jail cells.

- Katie Zerr -

 

 

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