Howard County looks at new jail

—Part 1: Reasons the current jail is inadequate
‘The state jail inspector is just waiting for a reason to shut us down. I don’t want to give him the reason.’ — Howard County Sheriff Mike Miner


Howard County - Why has a committee been exploring options to update or build a new jail, dispatch center and sheriff offices?
• The biggest reason is the age of the jail. For 135 years the Howard County Jail has been used to keep its law-abiding citizens safe. It has served its purpose. But the jail has been showing its age for years.
The jail and old sheriff’s residence was built of solid brick, 22x34 feet and 13 feet high with a 24-inch thick cement floor,  in 1882.
Sheriff Mike Miner explained to the Howard County Supervisors at the weekly meeting, held Feb. 13, some of the reasons the current jail is inadequate.
• The jail, dispatch center and sheriff offices are too small. 
~ The Howard County Jail gets written up on a yearly basis for not having enough areas of classification. Iowa law dictates inmates need to be held in different areas. General population is needed for males and females, as well as male and female maximum security. There are also separate cells required for special status or those who cannot be housed with other inmates. They include drunks, pedophiles, suicide watch, trans-gender, etc.
Jail facility consultant John Hansen explained the classifications. “Now, if we have one female, the whole upstairs is off limits to males.”
~ The dispatch center is maxed out on space. It continues to grow. 
~ There is no room to interrogate individuals. It is currently done in the squad room, where deputies have their desks.
• In at least one area of the jail, employee safety could be an issue.
• Black mold, which was removed in 2014, could reappear. To keep air moving, fans were set up, which are a fire safety and emergency evacuation hazard, according to the jail inspection report of July 5, 2016.
• Inmates kick at the metal cell, disrupting the other inmates. “The inmates get woke up, and that gets them riled up,” Miner said.
• There are bars and fixtures that have been used for attempted suicides. “The new jail will have no bars. The bars can be used by inmates to hang themselves. Within the last 2-3 weeks, we had one who tried to hang themselves.” 
Attempted suicides do not happen often in Howard County, Miner said maybe 1-2 every 3-4 years, and nobody has ever been successful. But Hansen reminded the supervisors, “If we have one liability case, this new jail would more than pay for it.”
• The stairway to the second story exercise area has one step that could cause injury.
• The dispatch center, besides being small, is not secured from the entrance or jail when the public comes in.
• Administrative offices are not properly heated or cooled. In 2010 it was estimated to cost $17,000 to update the system, which was not done.
• The sump pump in the basement does not meet City of Cresco code.
• The lighting in the cells at table top height is inadequate according to state code.
• The showers are in a deteriorated condition, making them unsightly and difficult to clean and sanitize. “The sinks and stools have rust on the edges and rust was observed in other parts of the cell block,” according to the jail inspection report.
All of the above issues are either mentioned directly or indirectly in the most recent jail inspection report. Miner stated, “The state jail inspector is just waiting for a reason to shut us down. I don’t want to give him the reason.”
The Howard County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution to allow a bond referendum vote to be held on May 2, for an amount not to exceed $5 million, for a 23-bed facility.
A sneak peak at the cost to property owners is approximately $37.01 per year for a $125,000 home; $45.90 for a $100,000 multi-residential property; $47.90 for a $100,000 commercial/industrial property; and $14.37 for 40 agricultural acres.
Look for Part 2 in next week’s Times Plain Dealer. The history of the current jail will be explored.

Cresco Times

Phone: 563-547-3601
Fax: 563-547-4602

Cresco TPD
214 N. Elm Street
Cresco, IA 52136

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