Guest Opinions

For safety, savings and society, we need to support a new Canyon County jail now

Initially intended to be temporary, the tent facility at the Canyon County jail houses 122 inmates in one space. Three deputies continuously patrol the unit.
Initially intended to be temporary, the tent facility at the Canyon County jail houses 122 inmates in one space. Three deputies continuously patrol the unit. kjones@idahostatesman.com

There’s an old Pennzoil ad where a crusty mechanic, standing beside a smoking engine and talking about the value regular of oil changes, says: “Pay me now, or pay me later.” It’s a good analogy for the Canyon County jail situation. We’ve known about the need for over 15 years; there have been 3 rejected jail bonds; the need for space keeps climbing; and the cost to build climbs with each delay.

I wish we lived in a perfect, crime-free, safe world, where everyone was just nice, and there was no need for jails. Unfortunately, the world in which we live has people who choose to act harmfully to others, and commit crimes for which there need to be consequences. There is an old proverb: When justice is delayed, criminals laugh. Every morning in Canyon County, the judiciary meets with the prosecutor’s and sheriff’s offices to determine which inmates pose the least risk for release, all to make room for new arrivals. The inmates are laughing.

Some say that the proposal “has not been properly vetted, scrutinized and prosecuted,” and that we have not listened to the opposition group. I have met personally with their representatives, as have the sheriff and Commissioner Pam White, and listened to their ideas. White personally called all the members with invitations to hearings. All these ideas have been considered, evaluated and rejected in past years.

This group has questioned several aspects of the plan. They’ve questioned the number of beds, saying we should just build to meet the need for today. When using the people’s money to build public facilities, it is fiscally foolish not to build for future needs, as opposed to today’s needs.

They’ve questioned the location. This location was selected by a concerned citizens group more than 10 years ago as the best site for a new jail. It is 3 miles from the courthouse and will take no more deputy resources to move inmates from this location to court appearances than it currently takes today. And given the city of Caldwell has spoken clearly that it does not want a new permanent jail at the present location, the site makes good sense at every level.

They’ve questioned the design concept. While true, building a barracks-style jail similar to the tent facility would be much cheaper, it’s not feasible in regards to jail needs. The proposed concept utilizes best practices in jail design, utilizing a majority of four-bed dormitory-style quads that allow the greatest flexibility in housing various classifications of inmates.

They’ve suggested we repurpose the Juvenile Detention Center to accommodate adults. This idea was studied in 2012 by the CGL Company as an option and rejected as a nonstarter.

The plan to build an addition to the old jail was also studied by CGL in 2016 and deemed a bad idea. Also, the permit required for that plan was rejected by the city of Caldwell, which has long-range goals for that area of town that do not include a new, larger jail.

They’ve questioned the cost of construction and the cost of operation. The price is an estimate based on construction material and labor costs. We won’t know the actual cost until a full set of architectural and engineering documents are drawn up, and that shouldn’t happen without a bond in place to pay for these plans. Operationally, modern jail design allows for the 1,055-inmate population to be managed with nearly the same workforce being used in our current hodge-podge jail.

There have been suggestions we capture tax revenues expected to come to the county when Caldwell Urban Renewal District sunsets in two years; expiring business incentive tax exemptions over the next five years; and new construction roll dollars, and dedicate those funds to building a new jail. That estimated total is approximately $7 million. If you saved up that money and paid cash for the jail, it would take 27 years before you could build. If you leveraged that money to build just a portion of the needed jail, you could pay off roughly $100 million in 20 years, but there’d still be the need for a positive vote on a bond, and then there would be a subsequent need to go out for another bond to complete the facility.

Many people have studied the jail challenge for numerous years. We’ve engaged experts in the field to do a critical strategic needs analysis and experts in municipal finance to run the numbers. This bond proposal is the result of years of intensive labor and study, and provides a reasonable plan to meet this critical need. It is not a “Cadillac” plan. It is a thoughtful jail, with considerations made for safety and security of inmates and deputies, designed to maximize efficiencies.

Five years ago while running for this office, I often stated we need a new jail, and any plan that does not get us out of using the old jail to house inmates is short-sighted. I promised to work on getting a professional, long-term, strategic analysis done, looking into the future for 30 years, and bring to the voters a plan. This bond proposal is the result.

Yes, the need is real. Yes, it is a lot of money. Yes, at some point Canyon County citizens will need to pay the price. And yes, the longer we wait, the higher the price will be.

I encourage you to support this effort on Tuesday, and help us meet this need.

Tom Dale is a Canyon County commissioner and former Nampa mayor.

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