Moving 86 inmates out of a tent lockup will prove trickier than simply marching them down the street to the Canyon County Jail or releasing some to relieve overcrowding.
Instead, judges and prosecutors will have to be consulted before determining whether some of those inmates could be eligible for a work-release program or whether they might end up housed in another county, Canyon County commissioners were told Tuesday.
“There are so many variables in play. It would take some time,” Chief Deputy Prosecutor Samuel Laugheed told Commissioners Steve Rule, Craig Hanson and Tom Dale.
Several escapes and the potential for additional ones led commissioners to tell Sheriff Kieran Donahue on Thursday to remove all inmates except those enrolled in a work-release program from a tent facility a block away from the Canyon County jail.
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“This needs to change now,” Commissioner Craig Hanson said in offering a short-lived motion that would have required the Sheriff’s Office to move inmates within 30 days who are serving time for misdemeanor offenses or who are awaiting trial. “It’s a safety issue.”
In the past 18 months, there have been four escapes from the facility involving five inmates.
Most recently, Juan Valentin Cervantes and Jeffrey Scott Duvall climbed a wall and got into the facility’s kitchen late Saturday night. They broke through an emergency fire door and ran to freedom. They were apprehended Tuesday after being found in a Caldwell residence.
Jail officials and 3rd District Administrative Judge Bradly Ford said they weren’t sure the inmates could be moved within 30 days. The tent, used to relieve overcrowding at the regular jail, currently holds 86 inmates but has 122 available beds.
“The problem will be finding a bed for these people,” said Daren Ward, the jail commander.
Releasing inmates or moving them to another facility in another county would require authorization from the judges and prosecutors who handled their cases. Jail officials, Donahue said, do not have the authority to release inmates, even low-level offenders, once they’ve been placed in custody.
“Individual judges will have to make decisions on what is appropriate or not appropriate,” Ford said.
Rule and Dale voted against Hanson’s motion. Instead, they came to an informal agreement with Hanson, a former jail captain, to direct the sheriff to begin moving inmates out of the tent, with no set time limit.
The commissioners said they expect to see substantial progress within the next month or so.
“It should be done today, but I don’t think we can do that and stay within legal parameters,” Rule said.
Overcrowding at the Canyon jail, formally known as the Dale G. Haile Detention Center, has been a longstanding problem.
In 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union described conditions as “indecent, cruel and inhumane.” The ACLU sued the county and a federal judge ordered Canyon to comply with numerous conditions while limiting total capacity in all facilities to 477 inmates.
On Thursday, Canyon County reported 375 inmates. The Haile center, with a capacity of 281 inmates and a target population of 252, housed 240 of those. Others were in annexes or various jail programs outside facilities.
Eighty-five percent of the inmates are awaiting trial or sentencing, jail officials said. Only about 20 are incarcerated for long-term sentences approaching a year; those serving longer terms are sent to a state prison.
A second lawsuit, filed in 2011, targeted then-Sheriff Chris Smith and his chief deputy with allegations that inmates who complained about poor jail conditions were retaliated against.
The county settled both cases by agreeing to a consent decree that placed numerous conditions on the jail. Last year, Donahue said the jail still needed costly ventilation and plumbing upgrades.
In May, the court announced it would no longer require jail oversight.
Idaho ACLU Director Leo Morales could not be reached for comment Thursday on the latest Canyon County jail development.
Rule and Hanson favor expanding the existing jail, while Dale and the sheriff believe a new facility is the best approach. Hanson, who was defeated in the May GOP primary by Pam White, will leave office in January.
White, like Dale, supports construction of a new jail, which would cost an estimated $50 million, compared to $14.5 million to remodel and expand the existing jail.