Q: Why is the county still working on the jail and courthouse after the failed votes in 2014 & June 2017?
A: The County is obligated to address the problems we have with the jail and courthouse.
- South Dakota state law requires counties to provide adequate court and jail facilities (SD codified laws: 16-6-7, 16-12A-29.1, 24-11-2, and 24-11-23).
- Since both the jail & courthouse are inadequate in terms of security and size, the county is obligated, by law, to address this problem.
Q: Since the vote in June 2017 failed, what is the plan to solve the County’s justice facilities problems?
A: The county is still working to solve the problems it can with the resources it currently has.
- Using money that has been saved over the years, the County is currently in the process of remodeling space in the courthouse to add another jury courtroom and expand the clerk of courts space. This requires some county offices to relocate outside the courthouse. These offices are Welfare, Veterans’ Assistance and the County Nurse. They will be relocated in downtown Watertown.
- The County continues to work with other agencies, like the Court system, the City of Watertown and Human Services Agency to refine criminal justice processes and develop jail alternatives to control the growth in jail population.
- The county still needs a new 120-bed jail and will need to issue a bond in the future in order to build it.
- Increased Public Safety. A modern, properly sized jail provides safety for jail staff and enables the justice system to incarcerate those who are a risk to public safety.
- Increased Court Security. A new jail would include a small in-custody courtroom which would minimize the movement of inmates through public areas of the court house. This increases public safety and operational efficiency.
- Lessens Liability Risk. A safe secure jail helps against lawsuits for failing to meet basic jail housing standards.
- Keeps justice activity in downtown Watertown. This will keep and enhance economic activity in Watertown’s historic downtown.
- Keeps the current courthouse in use. This will allow the community to continue to use our courthouse into the future, while preserving its historical features.
- Long term cost effectiveness. The cost of operating a new jail will be lower than continuing to use old facilities. Also, the longer the County must wait to update its facilities, the greater the cost of construction becomes.
Q:Why should we build better housing for inmates?
A: This isn’t about building better housing for inmates. This is about providing a safer work environment for our officers and liability protection for the County. A new jail would be made of concrete and steel. The typical cell (see picture from a modern county jail below) will have two steel bunks, a steel toilet and sink with a small steel desk attached to the wall.
Q: What do conditions for jail inmates have to do with the County’s legal liability?
A: The County is responsible for the health and safety of jail inmates. This doesn’tmean that jails should be comfortable. It does mean that they must be safe and humane. Courts have found jurisdictions (like states & counties) liable when jail or prison conditions are too crowded, unsafe or unsanitary. Courts have based most of these decisions on the 4th, 8th and 14th Amendments to the US Constitution:
- 4th Amendment and the right to privacy. Inmates must have reasonable privacy
- 8th Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. Jail conditions cannot constitute cruel or unusual punishment. Numerous court decisions have placed specific requirements on jails, to include floor space minimums in some situations.
- 14th Amendment, which prohibits taking away someone’s freedom without due process. This is especially important for pre-trial incarceration. Inmates have a right to access the legal system. This means jails should have multipurpose space (known as jail “program” space), attorney client space, & access to legal library resources.
Q: Isn’t a lot of the problem due to housing other counties’ inmates?
A: No. The need for an updated jail is due to the increase in Codington County inmates and because the current jail is unsafe. Inmates from other counties are less than 10% of our jail population. The County will be able to raise the price of housing other counties’ inmates to cover a reasonable share of the cost of updating our jail.
Q: Will 120 jail beds be enough?
A: While no one can predict the future, projections of inmate population using data from 1985 indicate that 120 beds should be enough for years to come. The County is taking precautions in case the jail population increases faster than projected:
- A 32-bed expansion has been included in the site plan (building footprint) to ensure there is space for expansion
- The County, along with the Court, law enforcement and the community, is continually looking for alternatives to jail (see next FAQ) to slow jail population growth.
Q: Why don’t we use ankle monitors to reduce the jail population?
A: The County uses and looks for more effective alternatives to incarceration that prevent an offender from committing more crimes. Ankle monitors are less effective at preventing an offender from committing more crimes.
- Currently the county uses a more effective incarceration alternative for drug and alcohol offenders: the 24/7 program.
- 24/7 provides person-to-person interaction & verification of behavior. Offenders have to check in with jail staff at frequent intervals.
- Since implementing 24/7 in 2007, jail population grows more slowly.
- The number of people on the 24/7 program usually exceeds the jail population.
- Other jail alternative programs that the County uses and supports:
- “Teen Court” helps prevent juvenile offenders from entering the criminal justice system
- The County participates in nation-wide initiatives to reduce juveniles in jail and to reduce the number of those with mental illness in jail.
- The County is working on more ways to reduce pre-trial confinement without compromising public safety. The goal is keep people awaiting trial out of jail as long as they aren’t a risk to public safety and are likely to show up for trial. This will need to be a county/court solution.
- That said, ankle monitors may be appropriate as an alternative to some types of juvenile detention or possibly as an enhancement to work release. The County recently obtained some ankle monitors to explore this possibility.
Q: Can we expand the current jail into a bigger jail?
A: We have examined that possibility and found that remodeling the current jail into a safe jail that meets modern standards would be too expensive and would limit long-term expandability. However, the current jail can be cost-effectively repurposed into court/county office space, which is being proposed as part of this project.
Q: I understand how a new jail would help with our jail problems, but what about the court?
A: The key ways this would help with court space problems:
- With the current remodeling project, Justice system space in our current court house will be increased from 13,141 square feet to roughly 22,000 square feet.
- When a new jail is built, it would likely include a small courtroom. This would eliminate most of the need to move inmates through the public areas of the current courthouse.