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County Takes Up Jail Issue

Karen ShadeJanuary 22, 2019

The Saline County Commission is pondering what to do about a jail that it seems has been outgrown.

Commissioners Tuesday heard a 70 minute presentation from Jim Robertson, owner of Voorhis/Robertson Justice Services, LLC. A few years ago, the county spent $58,000 to hire his firm and this is now phase 3/4 of the initial agreement.

Robertson looked at statistics from 2013 and 2017. In 2013, 61% of all bookings had less than a 3 day stay, using the equivalent of 5% of the jail’s beds. In 2013, 4% of all bookings stayed 91+ days, using the equivalent of 52% of the jail’s beds. In 2017, 58% of all bookings had less than a 3 day stay, using 4% of the jail’s beds. In 2017, 7% of all bookings stayed 91+ days, accounting for 61% of the jail’s beds.

Translated, in 2013, the average length of stay in the jail was 14.9 days, for 5,412 inmates, who needed 221 jail beds. In 2017, the average length of stay was 20.7 days, for 4,586 inmates, who needed 260 beds. (The number of jail bookings declined in 2017).

Robinson placed great importance on various agencies continuing to work to improve pre-trial decision making, modifying the court hearing docket, and improving sentence decision making.
But, even with very conservative estimates, Robertson predicted that the county will also face additional decisions. Depending on two scenarios that predicted the county may need 360 to 424 beds, the county could choose to continue housing inmates out of the county. By 2038, this might cost $36,535,077 to $49,181,619; this amount is in addition to the already $5,400,000 spent to date to house inmates out-of-county.

Robertson said another option would be to convert the existing jail to “long-term housing” and create a new facility for booking/releasing/assessing inmates. He conservatively projected this could cost $50,521,200 to $57,220,269.

A third option is to add additional beds (female, male, and special needs) at the current location and renovate the current jail to meet long-term needs. This could cost $43,444,714 to $50,143,884.

A fourth option could be to build a new jail (not justice center) at a new site, at a cost of $75,562,500 to $82,261,670.

Robertson praised the level of involvement, from the County Commission, to the Sheriff’s Office, to the judges and other agencies.

At the end of Robertson’s presentation, Commissioners Robert Vidricksen, Monte Shadwick and Rodger Sparks were in consensus that the option they liked the least was continuing to house inmates out of county. Commissioner Mike White said that when the jail was built (1991-1994) citizens were told that additional housing could be built on the present sight. Shadwick said this is the start of seeking public comment; he’d like to see the public’s wishes drive the commission’s actions. He said that the 2014 initiative to build a criminal justice center may have been defeated by voters because it was a “top down” process.

Commissioner Jim Weese did not attend the meeting because he is recovering from knee surgery.


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