Asked Monday night to choose between a request from the Canyon County commission’s current majority and a plan by the incoming majority and the sheriff, the Caldwell City Council gave one side what it wanted but delayed the action to allow the other side to prove its point.
After nearly three hours of testimony and discussion, the City Council voted 4 to 2 to approve Commissioners Steve Rule and Craig Hanson’s request to revert to the initial use of the county’s 11-year-old “tent” jail as a work-release center. In 2010 the council agreed to amend the special use permit to allow the county to ease jail crowding by using the canvas-sided structure to house minimum security inmates, but Hanson and Rule filed a request to cease that use, citing escapes by seven inmates during the past year.
The change in permit status won’t take effect until early March, giving county leaders time to fortify the structure as was proposed when the council ruled on the permit change six years ago. They can then go back to the City Council to request continuing the tent jail’s current use.
“This is far from over,” Caldwell Planning and Zoning Director Brian Billingsley said Tuesday.
The commission’s new majority, which will take control in January when Pam White replaces Hanson on the board, has been asked to “come up with a new plan to better fortify that place,” Billingsley said.
Sheriff Kieran Donahue, Commissioner Tom Dale and Commissioner-elect White want to put a lid over the outdoor exercise yard and one over the tent jail’s kitchen, which Donahue says would have prevented all but one of the past year’s escapes. They also propose adding a buffer fence.
Rule and Hanson say those changes won’t make the tent jail adequate to its current task or appropriate to the adjacent residential neighborhood. The two commissioners, who earlier this year were blocked in their attempt to expand the current jail, have long been at odds with other Canyon County elected officials on issues surrounding the jail.
Reverting the tent jail to work-release would force the county to find jails in other counties to house the tent jail’s current prisoners and transport them back and forth for court appearances. He says that could cost $1 million per year, compared to $100,000 to $200,000 in improvements that would keep the tent jail secure until the county can build a new jail in a few years. And he says that putting around 30 work-release prisoners into a structure that averages 90 minimum security inmates would under-use the facility