Mower jail group considers overcrowding
By Seth Rowe
A committee created to study solutions to Mower County's jail overcrowding problem met for the first time Wednesday evening to discuss a time frame for its work and to summarize the situation.
"I can see the only way it needs to be done, and that's quickly," said Lance Pogones, a citizen member of the committee.
Several members said they would like to make a presentation to the county board within the next six months. They agreed to meet every two weeks; the next meeting will be at 7 p.m. July 23, but a location has not been determined yet.
Overcrowding problems in the jail have increased in the past five years, committee members Sheriff Terese Amazi and Judge Donald Rysavy said.
The problem has been compounded by legislative action, such as a new requirement that prisoners spend their last six months in a local facility, Rysavy said.
New standards from the Department of Corrections also limit how many prisoners can be housed in the jail.
The jail was built for 72 prisoners about 50 years ago, said Garry Ellingson, a member of the county board and the committee. However, now it's licensed for 45 prisoners, said jail administrator Bob Roche, a technical adviser at the meeting.
Rysavy said he often has to ask Roche when the jail will have enough space for a sentenced individual to serve his or her term.
Roche and Ellingson called the situation embarrassing.
"None of this is classified. They (criminals) already know large teeth have been taken out because of overpopulation," Roche said. "It's embarrassing. When a judge is teetering on sending someone to jail or electronic home monitoring and they're dangerous, that's embarrassing. They're laughing at us."
The jail's design has become a problem as well. It's not unusual for judges and clerks to bump into inmates in the courthouse halls.
When committee members requested to tour as much of the jail and courthouse as possible during business hours, Roche said, "Be ready; you're going to be scared."
Rysavy said, "Don't be surprised when you walk out of an office into someone in orange."
The committee has three options to consider:
Send more prisoners to area jails.
Build a new jail in the downtown area.
Build a new jail on the outskirts of Austin.