Overcrowding problem resurfaces; is it time to build new jail in Dallas County?


Creative use of space and extra bunks have helped, but general population beds are nearly always full.

Chief Deputy Doug Lande of the Dallas County sheriff's office points out the cramped quarters of the jail administration space at the county jail in Adel. The room was formerly used as the inmates' library.

Chief Deputy Doug Lande of the Dallas County sheriff’s office points out the cramped quarters of the jail administration space at the county jail in Adel. The room was formerly used as the inmates’ library.

Overcrowding at the Dallas County Jail has officials pondering whether a new facility is needed or if there are other places to house inmates.

The jail has 45 beds for inmates, including 10 beds in detoxification cells — specialty cells for drunken or aggressive inmates that should not include the jail’s general population. The prison’s average daily population, however, is 66 inmates.

That doesn’t necessarily mean 66 inmates spend the night, said the Dallas County Jail’s administrator, Chief Deputy Doug Lande.

“It’s a good thing people bond out, and they are released by the court,” he said.

Dallas County is Iowa’s fastest- growing county, with its population increasing 62 percent from 2000 to 2010, according to U.S. census data.

Overcrowding at the jail is among the growing pains the county is experiencing. Residents are demanding more services such as increasing the amount of paved roads. The Dallas County Jail booked 1,474 people in 2001. That had increased 15 percent by 2010, when about 1,700 were booked.

Because of overcrowding, the jail relies heavily on the beds in detox for the general population, Lande said. He estimated that the jail’s general population beds are full 90 to 95 percent of the time.

“Detox is a classification cell. It’s there for a specific purpose, but yet we have to rely upon those detoxes for our population,” Lande said.

The jail also has a few moveable plastic cots that can be used as beds if the nighttime population tops 45.

By necessity, Lande has become an expert at making the best use of small spaces. He shares an office that once housed the prison’s library. He installs shelves anywhere they will fit. Half of the jail’s holding cell was eliminated to make space for a new alcohol breath-tester machine and printer.

Space becomes even scarcer whenever someone enters the jail who must be separated from the general population. That list includes women and people who are overly aggressive. When a juvenile is arrested, Lande loses an entire cellblock.

Many of the people who arrested are bonded out before their trials, freeing up space in the jail. But that poses other problems for Dallas County law enforcement. Some people who have been arrested leave the state before their court dates.

In 2010, the Dallas County sheriff’s office had at least 10 former inmates leave Iowa before their trials, Lande said.

Dallas County officials have asked a Waukee architectural firm, Design Alliance, to do a space needs study for the county government that includes the jail.

“We’re looking into the future and what the needs of the county are going to be, including the jail,” said Kim Chapman, one of three members of the Dallas County Board of Supervisors.

Building a new jail or expanding the current one would ultimately be a decision for taxpayers, Chapman said.

Dallas County leaders are also considering other solutions.

In the past, Dallas County inmates have been housed at jails in Polk and Marion counties. Dallas County could enter into a legal agreement with one of those counties, but it would most likely be expensive, Lande said. He estimated it would cost about $75,000 a month to house inmates in other jails.

Overcrowding is not a new problem at the Dallas County Jail. In 2001, then-Dallas County Sheriff Arthur Johnson noticed increased overcrowding and wrote a letter to county supervisors.

Supervisors created the Dallas County Justice Committee, which was made up of about 20 people, including the sheriff, a judge, a county attorney, probation officers and civilians.

In an August 2001 report, the committee gave the supervisors eight recommendations on ways to deal with overcrowding.

As a result, 12 bunk beds were added to the jail.

The jail can’t add more bunks without violating the Iowa Code, which requires 35 to 70 square feet per prisoner, depending on environmental factors.

One major step toward increasing the jail’s security — and decreasing liability — would be hiring a shift supervisor for the afternoons and evenings, which the jail has never had, Lande said.

Lande and Dallas County Sheriff Chad Leonard are trying to find money in the budget to pay a night supervisor. They plan to return to the Dallas County Board of Supervisors this month with that request.

Leonard said the justice committee’s suggestions worked for the past decade, but something more drastic needs to be done now.

“Ten years later, we’re back in the same boat, even with those same rules and regulations in place,” Leonard said. “I don’t think we can come up with more rules to let people out. It’s putting a Band-Aid on a situation that’s going to get worse.”




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