With two escapees still at large, Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue on Monday announced new security precautions at the Canyon County Jail’s minimum-security “tent” structure.
County commissioners unanimously approved an initial measure that would have stopped this escape, but Chairman Steve Rule said that before any further expenses are approved, commissioners will discuss halting the structure’s current use and reverting to its original purpose as a work-release center.
“It would cost $100,000 or maybe $200,000 to make it secure,” Rule told the Statesman, mentioning measures such as a full fence and a hard coating on the tent-type outer fabric. “It just doesn’t make sense.”
What does make sense to Rule and Commissioner Craig Hanson is to expand the current jail to ease overcrowding. And on Monday night they appealed to the Caldwell City Council to approve a special-use permit for that project, against the recommendation of the city’s planning commission and the wishes of many local officials.
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Many people turned out to testify on the jail problems, and the hearing stretched into late Monday night.
In addition to the two commissioners, three Caldwell residents and the project architect testified in favor of the expansion. They said the project is the most cost-effective way to address the county’s chronic needs and would be the best land-use decision for the council.
Caldwell resident Myla Wood said the expansion is a “common-sense alternative” to building a more expensive new jail, something that Canyon County voters have rejected over the past decade.
The estimated expansion cost of $14 million is tough for taxpayers to swallow, Wood said, but “it’s certainly better than a $50 million new facility.”
Then a long line of opponents took the floor, including Donahue, County Clerk Chris Yamamoto and the third county commissioner, Tom Dale.
Dale and commissioner-elect Pam White, who defeated Hanson in the May primary and will take office in January, say they will shut down the expansion plan once they hold the majority. A long-term solution to jail crowding is needed, they said.
“Anyone who has anything to do with running the jail ... or financing the jail is against” expansion, Caldwell resident Tony Navratil said. “The county needs a new jail. They don’t need a Band-Aid.”
At about 10:30 p.m. Saturday, inmates Jeffery Duvall and Juan Cervantes scaled a 9-foot wall into the tent jail’s kitchen, then opened an exterior kitchen door to escape, Donahue said. Opening the door alerted deputies, but both men got away. The sheriff said he could not discuss how the men got through the door but said it was under investigation.
It was the fourth escape from the decade-old structure in about 18 months, jail Capt. Darin Ward said. The three previous escapees were recaptured.
“This facility was never made to operate as we’re operating it,” Donahue said at a news conference, noting that it was intended for work-release prisoners who “get out every day, so there’s no reason to escape.”
But since 2011, because of jail overcrowding, the structure has been used to house inmates who qualify as minimum-security, but increasingly are in jail for more serious offenses, the sheriff said.
Officials agreed Monday to build a metal sub-ceiling above the kitchen so that anyone who climbed the wall would be stuck, unable to drop down, Donahue said. That project should be completed in the next few days, Ward said.
Commissioners also agreed to consider other security enhancements suggested by jail staff, including a second fence around the structure, Donahue said. Rule said he has serious misgivings about committing more money to a structure that is not suited for full-time prisoners.
Rule said commissioners will discuss reverting the structure to work release on Thursday, but he doesn’t know where the 83 prisoners now held there would be moved.
Before exiting through the kitchen, Duvall and Cervantes apparently tried to cut their way through the exterior fabric with a jail-issued disposable razor, a method that had worked for a previous escapee, Donahue said.
Both men were in custody on felony probation violations. Online arrest records show that Duvall’s latest charges are attempted strangulation and domestic battery with traumatic injury, while Cervantes’ were driving without privileges, misdemeanor DUI and possession of a controlled substance.
Anyone with information on the men’s whereabouts is asked to call 208-454-7531. Both have connections in the Treasure Valley so they might still be in this area, Donahue said..
Kristin Rodine: 208-377-6447