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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Crowded jails in Benton and Washington counties have officials looking for interim fixes while they keep working on long-term solutions.

Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder and Benton County Sheriff Shawn Holloway took their top jail administrators last week to visit the Greene County jail in Springfield, Mo., to see how portable space in semitrailers is being used for interim housing for prisoners while the county plans and builds a bigger jail.

"This is our first trip looking at what's available," Holloway said Thursday.

In 2018, Helder presented a Washington County jail expansion plan to the Quorum Court. The justices of the peace asked him to look at incarceration alternatives before they ask voters to approve a sales tax increase for the $38 million needed to add 600 beds to the 700-bed lockup.

Justices of the peace recently agreed to hire an ombudsman to recommend ways that some prisoners might be released. A study of the county's criminal justice system has been discussed, but not agreed to yet.

"As I've said, I'm open to anything," Helder said. "We still think we presented the best option last year, but I'm going to do my due diligence and provide the JPs with as much information as I can."

Holloway said his jail is also regularly over capacity, and the sheriff's office has had to limit the number of misdemeanor offenders it locks up. The Benton County jail has a capacity of about 669 prisoners, but it has held between 680 and 700 recently. The county is sending 15-20 prisoners to Carroll County most days and limiting the number of misdemeanor offenders it locks up to 40 or 50.

In Missouri, Maj. Royce Denny with the Greene County sheriff's office said his jail has a capacity of 601 prisoners but the county has been exceeding that number for several years.

"On Monday, we hit an all-time high of 946 inmates," Denny said Wednesday.

Voters in Greene County approved a half-percentage-point sales tax increase in 2017 as part of a plan to expand the jail. The proposed expansion will give the county about 1,200 beds in the jail, but construction will take several years. The county will need more prisoner housing in the meantime.

Denny said Greene County, with a population of about 289,000 in 2017, had contracts with 11 Missouri counties to accept the overflow of prisoners. The number of prisoners sent to other counties ranged from 160 to 200, he said. Those contracts cost about $2.2 million in 2017, according to the county.

To reduce that cost, the county decided to lease temporary housing units manufactured by All Detainment Solutions in Seymour, Mo. The company has manufactured housing and office space for the military and for workers in disaster relief situations, and saw an opportunity to expand by offering mobile housing units to law enforcement.

Denny said the Greene County jail is leasing the units, built on 53-foot-long semitrailers. The trailers give the county jail about 2,600 square feet to house 108 prisoners.

The trailers are configured for different uses, with one providing shower and toilet facilities, three used for sleeping areas and two used for common areas. A space between the shower unit and the sleeping areas, surrounded by metal screening, provides an exercise and outdoor recreation area.

The county has leased the temporary housing for two years at an annual cost of about $873,000, with options for three more years at an annual cost of about $833,000 and one more year at a cost of $794,000.

The company is also working on temporary housing for the Canyon County jail in Caldwell, Idaho. Joe Decker, public information officer for Canyon County, said the jail has been a source of problems for many years. Canyon County has a population of about 230,000.

Decker said proposed bond issues to expand the jail were rejected by voters in 2006, 2009, 2010 and again in 2019. Also, he said the county was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union because of crowding, water temperatures and other complaints, and entered into a consent decree that ended in 2015.

He said the county has continued to abide by the terms of the consent decree, but those conditions included capping the jail population at 477, down from 650-700 prisoners held before the consent decree.

So, Decker said Canyon County is spending about $10.5 million in a lease-purchase agreement for 28 of the temporary units to house 122 prisoners. He said the county is now spending about $1 million annually to transport and house prisoners in other jails, making the leased housing space an attractive option while county officials keep working on a permanent solution.

Helder said he was struck by the similarities between Greene County and Canyon County. Both areas are seeing population growth similar to Northwest Arkansas' and struggling with the resulting crime increase. Washington County has a population of about 231,000, and Benton County has a population of about 266,000.

Helder said Washington County's need for relief is immediate. If the county is unable to find alternatives to incarceration, the expansion plan -- assuming voters approve the tax increase -- will still take up to three years to complete so the county needs to look at interim solutions.

"This all sounds very familiar," Helder said.

Meanwhile, Washington County's justices of the peace, at a meeting Thursday evening, plan to continue discussing a proposed study of the county's criminal justice system. They were deadlocked 7-7 on a motion to approve the study at their June meeting.

Metro on 07/15/2019

Print Headline: Counties seek temporary fixes to ease crowded-jails problem

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