Kootenai County Voters To Decide On New Jail

COEUR D’ALENE — Voters in Kootenai County will once again decide if the county jail should be expanded to relieve overcrowding.

On Tuesday, commissioners released what it would cost to expand the jail and remodel and build new administrative space. The price tag is $147 million.

It’s an issue that will not go away. Behind several secure doors, and thick concrete walls, you’ll find hundreds of inmates in orange, yellow and red jail suits. As the county population continues to grow, so does the crowd in there.

The Kootenai County Jail is consistently at full capacity

“I think we’ve had as many as 70 in these 50-bed dorms,” says Lt. Neal Robinson.

“When you pack that many people that close together,” says Sheriff Rocky Watson, “tempers flare, people get agitated easily and we have more fights or altercations.”

In November, Watson hopes that can change. County commissioners announced Tuesday they plan to put a measure before voters asking them to approve a jail expansion and money to improve the administrative space next door. It will coat $110 million for the jail, and $37 million for the sheriff’s office and other buildings.

“It’s just too small for the volumes we’re doing.” Watson says. “When this building was built, the sheriff’s office, the county was half as big as they are now. Everything doubled in size. Infrastructure has not kept up with it.”

Storage rooms are now office space, pushing boxes and file cabinets into the halls. Right now the sheriff’s office only has one interview room, as the other is packed with files from the Joseph Duncan case. And it’s tough to find space in the evidence room.

Plans for the jail include expanding the laundry room and adding almost 500 more beds.

This is the second attempt to expand the jail in the past three years. Voters said no to a $50 million expansion project in 2005.

“If we can’t increase capacity at this facility over the next 12 years,” says Watson, “we will spend $62 million in transportation costs alone.”