Friday, May 27, 2005

Idaho's vanishing disgraces

Voters in Elmore County finally either saw reason or they tired of being known as home to Idaho's "worst" jail: 80 percent of those who turned out for an election Tuesday approved a $7.5 million bond issue for a new 72-bed jail replacing the unseemly 37-bed detention facility.

Now it's Blaine County's turn. A new jail and sheriff's administrative facility along with an Emergency 911 dispatch center seems to be on a fast-track toward construction.

And none too soon. As Sheriff Walt Femling has warned for years—and voters have failed to heed when asked to fund a new jail—Blaine County's jail is a disgrace: leaky roof, overcrowding and inadequate operational facilities.

Voters last year finally approved using county funds for an $8 million to $9.5 million facility doubling the current 24 beds to 54 along with more space for rehabilitation activities.

Of Idaho's 42 county jails serving 44 counties, 20 are fully complaint with 325 standards, six are "operationally complaint" (including Blaine County), and the remainder, according to Bill Lynn, executive director of the Idaho Sheriffs Association, "are doing the best job they can."

Jails by any measure are not cushy country clubs. Having up-to-date facilities, however, is a reasonable standard for men and women awaiting trial or serving short sentences, as well as ensuring proper security for jail personnel dealing with prisoners whose behavior can pose risks.

There's another practical reason: judges that monitor treatment of prisoners have proven to be harsh on officials when jail conditions don't meet proper standards for continuous human habitation.

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