TWIN FALLS — More than 40 inmates crowded together Wednesday afternoon in an old trailer outfitted as a 24-person cell block. Most stood in the middle of the room, leaning against their bunk beds; some lay in the body-length plastic “boats” that lined the walls, meant for those forced to sleep on the ground.
It’s one of many cell blocks in Twin Falls County Jail with more people than beds.
The jail is overcrowded, and that’s dangerous for both inmates and workers, said Capt. Doug Hughes.
“It’s difficult at best. It’s not even what we would consider adequate for anybody to be housed in,” Hughes said. “It makes it very hard to get around in the facilities to do the security checks, to do the safety checks, to manage the inmate population.”
About 279 inmates are currently housed at a jail facility equipped for 194.
Hughes pointed to a laundry list of services the jail struggles to adequately provide with an ever growing population: safe transportation of inmates through tight corridors; a nursing station stuffed into a closet; an overflowing storage and administration wing.
The programming “room,” a pantry-sized space snugly fit with nine chairs, makes it hard for the jail to give inmates behavioral reform opportunities, Hughes said.
“If they can’t leave here in a better place than when they got here, then we’re absolutely in failure,” he said.
And with so many inmates, it’s nearly impossible to maneuver to make the necessary upgrades, he said.
Twin Falls County is asking voters in November for a $25 million bond to pay for a series of projects intended to expand capacity at the jail.
If approved, the project would add 316 new beds for adult male inmates in modular jail units and renovations at the current Snake River Juvenile Detention Center. Juvenile detention would move to the County West building, which would need minimal renovations. Women inmates and prisoners awaiting trial would be kept in the current jail downtown.
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Commissioner Don Hall said the county needs to have a solution for its deteriorating and overcrowded jail.
“Some folks need to be incarcerated, but those same folks need to have some kind of way to get out of that cycle,” Hall said. “It’s very difficult to get out of the cycle with this kind of facility.”
The 20-year bond would cost property owners about $25.92 per $100,000 of tax value.
Hall said he understands the concern for rising property taxes, but local governments don’t have other ways of paying for infrastructure. The current bond proposal is reasonable, he said.
“Government only has limited resources when it comes to these big capital projects,” Hall said. “The only limited resource we have is going for bonds.”
Commissioner Jack Johnson said stress on the facility, inmates and staff could eventually come to a breaking point.
An overcrowded jail is not only dangerous but expensive as well, Johnson said. Twin Falls currently houses about 40 inmates out of county, which costs $75 per inmate per day or a little more than $1 million in a year, he said.
“There is nowhere to take inmates right now” Johnson said. “We’re running them all over the state to find beds.”
Johnson said the county also needs to replace an outdated courthouse with a backlog of cases that’s contributing to the overcrowded jail. He said if this bond passes, they could potentially pay for the new courthouses without needing another bond.
Twin Falls County has not asked voters for a bond since the current jail facility was built in 1988.