Friday, January 2, 2009

Sheriff’s jailhouse dream becomes reality

Femling pleased with more humane treatment for inmates


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling shows off the control room at the new Blaine County Detention Center. Femling said the new jail, which opened last summer, provides a more humane environment for inmates than the old jail, often referred to as “the dungeon.”

     Sheriff Walt Femling’s dream of nearly 20 years became reality last summer as prisoners were moved from Blaine County’s old jail, often referred to as “the dungeon,” to a new state-of-the art detention center.

     Femling has often said that he wants inmates to leave jail in better condition than when they went in, and now they have that opportunity.

     “It offers more of a living environment to help inmates make a change in their life,” Femling said. “They don’t come out angrier than when they went in like at the old facility.

     “Our old facility was like dog kennels. It was way too hot, it was way too cold, it smelled. It was extremely depressing to work there or to be an inmate there.”

     In the old facility, built in 1972, crowded conditions left inmates little to do except lie in bed most of the time.

     “How good is that if all you can do is lie in bed all day?” he said.

     Now, instead of crowded, musty cells, the new jail features spacious cell blocks including day rooms. Improved medical treatment is available and inmates can stay physically fit in a spacious recreation area

     “You’re up, you’re using your mind more,” he said. “You can get some exercise and fresh air.”

     A video visitation system allows inmates to visit with family seven days a week, rather than only two as in the old facility.

     Femling said he can see a difference already in the inmates.

     “They come out much better, medically, physically and mentally, than when they went in,” he said. “They certainly have more appropriate living conditions.”

     Femling points out that most prisoners will eventually be returned to society, and more humane treatment while they are in jail will lessen the risk that they’ll be behind bars again.

     “In the long run, if we can keep them out of jail we save money, and they’ll be better citizens within our county.”

     The new jail is part of the new BlaineCountyPublicSafetyBuilding on Aviation Drive in south Hailey. Construction was started in May 2007 after voters overwhelmingly approved a $10.46 million bond issue in February of that year. It was the fourth time a bond issue for a new jail had been put before the electorate. Previous attempts to fund a new jail failed in 1990, 1995 and 1996.

     Sheriff’s office staff and inmates moved into the new facility in July and August of this year.

     “One of the points I want to make is that it’s so much better on my staff,” Femling said. “They’re working in a facility that is safe and secure now.”

     The new detention center has space for 84 male and female inmates, whereas the old facility could accommodate only 26 prisoners, and women were housed out of the county.

     Femling said the new facility is averaging about 40 inmates per day. On average, four of those are being held for other counties.

     The sheriff said the new jail will help meet the needs of BlaineCounty as the population grows, presumably bringing with it more crime. (The crime rate in 2007 jumped 27 percent over the previous year.)

 

2008 law enforcement highlights

    ·Freddy Tellez, who was 17 when he murdered his former girlfriend, 16-year-old Margarita Guardado, in August 2007, was sentenced to life in prison in August of this year. Tellez must spend 24 years behind bars before he is eligible for parole. Guardado’s mother, Maria Mares, told the Idaho Mountain Express that the sentence wasn’t enough. On Monday, Dec. 22, Mares said she still has a difficult time dealing with her daughter’s death, especially during the holidays.

     ·In June the Idaho Supreme Court upheld the conviction of Sarah Johnson, who had been sentenced to two life terms without the possibility of parole for murdering her parents, Alan and Diane Johnson, at the couple’s home in Bellevue in September 2003.

     ·A second-degree attempted murder charge was dismissed in March against Deborah A. Reimer after the Ketchum Police Department mishandled evidence for the case. Reimer had been accused of firing two shots at former boyfriend Bob Dreyer at his home in south Ketchum in July 2007.

     ·Jeffrey J. Marsalis was extradited from Pennsylvania to BlaineCounty in August to face a 2005 Sun Valley rape charge. Marsalis had already been sentenced to 21 years in prison in Pennsylvania for sex crime convictions in 2007 in Philadelphia. In December, a change of venue was granted for the trial because of pretrial publicity. A new trial date and location have not been determined.

     ·After five years as Ketchum’s police chief, Cory Lyman left the job in October to direct the emergency services program in Salt Lake City. Assistant Police Chief Mike McNeil is serving as interim chief while city officials decide whether to hire a new chief, consolidate police services with the city of Sun Valley or contract services with the sheriff’s office.




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