Jail called 'outdated, inadequate' in survey
A recent building summary of the Pierce County Courthouse has confirmed what those who work or visit have known all along:
"Among many physical and operational problems with the facility, the most severe and immediate issues revolve around space needs, efficient operations, accessibility and security," representatives of KKE Architects said.
The architectural firm, specializing in interior design and architectural planning, with locations in Minneapolis and throughout the United States, praised the complex for being attractive and well-maintained for being over 100 years old. At the same time, it stated, "Forty years' growth in county population and increased demand for services have resulted in major deficiencies, most of which can't be feasibly accommodated or corrected within the existing buildings."
It saved some of its harshest opinions for the Pierce County Jail, which turned 43 years old this year. Among the notables:
- The 29-bed facility was called outdated, resulting in transporting and housing prisoners to nearby jails in Menomonie (Dunn County) and Durand (Pepin County) at a cost, Sheriff Nancy Hove estimated, of around $500,000 this past year.
- Those who work in jail/dispatch are spread too thin due to supervising the jail and handling phone calls. They believe it compromises the efficiency, safety and security for the county. The number of calls, for example, has increased from 15,800 in 1997 to 21,650 in 2007.
- More than once, the architects expressed concern about sheriff's personnel escorting prisoners to and from court by means of the public stairs, stating it poses a threat to the county staff and public.
- The electrical service of the building is inadequate, the air handlers have outlived their useful life and the shower floors leak into the electronics room.
- An insufficient number of intake holding rooms make it difficult to evaluate new offenders prior to transporting or placing in a housing area.
- No space for correctional programs, whether religious or educational or any other which could curb recidivism.
One idea to aid that cause is the creation of a Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. The idea was advanced by Circuit Court Judge Joseph Boles, who has seen it La Crosse and Eau Claire counties.
"The basic idea is to get all the key players together of the criminal justice system at the same table and look at all the aspects -- protection of the public, enforcing the law, fairness to the defendant, etc., and see what ideas work and what doesn't," the judge said.
Grant funds are available through the state, Boles said, to help in the establishment of a council, which Pierce has applied for (the county will find out later this year if it's successful). Even if Pierce is denied the funds, Boles would love to see the council get up-and-running nonetheless.
"All separate entities have never gotten together before," he said. "It will force us to take a good, hard look at what we are doing."
A new jail would eliminate even more of these concerns, but Hove, who started her second term as sheriff earlier this month, knows that isn't happening in today's economic climate.
"A building isn't even being discussed," she said about the board level. "We're going have to do more with less."
Over 1,000 people were booked into the Pierce County Jail in 2008, an increase from 775 10 years prior. Four hundred twenty-two were for revocation/OMVWI offenses, while 200 were for probation holds. The average length of stay in 2008 was nearly 12 days. In 1988, the average length was 6.8 days.