Canyon County

Push to expand Canyon jail fizzles; new attempt to pass a bond may come next year

The inside of the Canyon County jail, photographed in May 2016.
The inside of the Canyon County jail, photographed in May 2016. Idaho Statesman file

For the past year, two of the three Canyon County commissioners have pushed to move forward on expanding the existing county jail before their majority expires in January.

But that plan is dead with the passing of last week's deadline to appeal an October Caldwell City Council ruling blocking the expansion.

And Tom Dale, who in January will lead a new majority on the commission, said Thursday the county will move forward next year with a fresh plan to build a new bond-funded jail on county-owned land on Caldwell's northern edge.

Even if the City Council reversed its decision not to grant a permit to expand the jail adjacent to the courthouse in downtown Caldwell, Dale said, that change couldn't take effect until after Jan. 9, when commissioner-elect Pam White will be sworn in to replace Craig Hanson.

White, like Dale and Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue, opposes the expansion and favors moving toward building a new, efficiently designed jail on county-owned land off U.S. 20-26 near Caldwell's northern edge. The county’s clerk and controller also opposed expansion and say a new jail is a more sound approach.

Commissioners Hanson and Steve Rule, who say the estimated $14.5 million expansion is the most fiscally responsible way to address the county's need for more jail space, could not be reached for comment Thursday. Both men have backed past efforts to build a new jail on county-own land, but three failed efforts to pass a jail bond in the past decade convinced them that a lower-cost, quicker solution was needed.

Dale said he anticipates a fourth bond attempt, probably next November. But first, he said, he has asked the justice planning firm of Carter Goble Lee to prepare a proposal for a "complete needs analysis" that, with input from the sheriff's office, other police agencies and judges, would determine what will be needed in the future. He hopes to get the proposal in January and the completed analysis four months later.

Dale has advocated for that thorough analysis for months, but in late summer agreed to Rule and Hanson's proposal to have Carter Goble Lee do a smaller-scale study to evaluate whether the county would be better off expanding the current jail or building a new one. The firm's report, delivered last month, favored a new jail.

Asked how much the new jail would cost, Dale said that hasn't been determined. Previous estimates, based on plans developed earlier for the site off 20-26, hover around $50 million.

If approved by voters, the new jail would likely take 18 months to two years to build, he said.

Dale said those plans will likely be amended based on the needs analysis and new advances in jail design. And he said Canyon County voters, who have failed to give two-thirds majority approval to three previous jail bond efforts, seem to agree that something must be done to improve the county's jail and that expanding the existing jail is not the answer.

"I believe right now the public awareness of the need for an adequate jail space is higher than it's ever been, and people didn't like the expansion plan," Dale said.

Kristin Rodine: 208-377-6447