Pilot Editorial

Monday, November 29, 2004

Jail size isn't the issue

As the Board of Supervisors in Buena Vista County sets out to negotiate for the always-empty spec building to renovate as a new jail, we applaud their decision as the right one. (And one mentioned as a possibility by this newspaper many months ago).

Compared to the residential West Milwaukee neighborhood - and the bottom floor of our very public courthouse - it seems a safer, more flexible solution to our changing needs.

The supervisors seem to be getting over their worries about the spec building being larger than what they had originally envisioned, in one case stating that "all offices grow."

In other words, you create it with the idea that everybody working in there will sprawl out and take up the extra space.

That's not the optimum reasoning for using a building with more space than we absolutely need today. We have seriously outgrown a jail once because we could not imagine the future would bring any different needs than we could see on the day the courthouse was opened.

Guess what - it will.

And other area counties, notably Cherokee at this moment, are struggling with inadequate jail spaces as well. Eventually, Iowa will realize that trying to provide 99 different jails to meet all of the ever-stricter regulations and changing prisoner populations isn't the most efficient answer. Having a building with some flexible space, and room for change around it, will give us an advantage. Perhaps, instead of being the county fleeced for costs of holding women, juveniles and overflow prisoners elsewhere, we can become one that brings in some revenue toward its own operations by meeting some particular area need - such as video conferencing technology for distance hearings and sentencings without making our deputies into taxi drivers any longer.

SLADC hasn't reported any pressing takers on that building, which the public helped to provide. It seems like a viable solution from where we sit, and the extra space can be just as easily viewed as an advantage, rather than an excess.