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Jail task force to build on old study

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

'Let the public inside the jail to see how bad it is'

The Buena Vista County Jail Task Force approved a motion Friday to try something old and something new in its recommendation to the Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors for renovation of the county jail and courthouse.

Unhappy with proposals made by its top three choices in consulting firms, the task force approved a motion by Storm Lake Director of Public Safety Mark Prosser, "to secure the services of Plepla and Associates of Des Moines in conjunction with an architect to evaluate the courthouse, jail and other buildings, complete with conceptual drawings of expansion and space needs."

Central to this plan would be the study done in 1997-98 by the DLR Group and by the National Institute of Corrections. This study, according to Buena Vista County sheriff Chuck Eddy, was made to "see what we could do about overcrowding in the jail." While the earlier public vote failed, Eddy said that everyone who had anything to do with the jail was interviewed in that original study, and all of that background information should still apply.

The county would rely on the study and the expertise of the Buena Vista County law enforcement agencies, leaving Plepla and its architect to do only building and space evaluation, Eddy said.

Plepla would look into space needs, where to put the jail, whether more space is needed, whether or not other buildings in town might be used, and what needs to be done to the courthouse.

The original studies, Bill Strawn, committee chair, pointed out, "have been proven credible. Everything they said has all been proven true. The jail is falling apart."

How this shakes out to the public which rejected the 1999 bond issue to renovate or build a new jail was the question that kept nagging the committee.

In early discussions, Friday, there was opposition to using the old studies because it did fail before the public once.

"In the public eye that whole thing was a failure," said committee member Dale Arends of Newell. "We should distance ourselves from that as much as possible."

But Eddy disagreed, saying the losing the bond issue had more to do with money.

"People didn't want to pay for it," Eddy said. "I believe it had to do with raising the tax."

But Strawn referred to the study in positive terms, saying "the study has been proven credible and that lends a lot of weight to our process."

Arends admitted that the things that the study predicted would happen, have happened, "right down the line, so I guess that does add credence to it."

In the previous meetings as well as the most recent, the committee members thought getting more people in to see the jail would help make the case for a successful bond issue.

County supervisor and committee member Lorna Burnside suggested at the last meeting and reiterated again at this week's meeting that getting people into the jail so see how bad it is, was a good way to raise public consciousness about the jail.

"I think the voters need to see the jail," she said. "I'd like to see us feature one community from the county every Saturday and hold an open house. Bus people into Storm Lake in the prisoners' van so they can see for themselves. We have to sell this to the entire county."

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