Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Kootenai County Jail Expansion - Why I Voted "No"

On November 8, 2005, voters in Kootenai County, Idaho, voted "no" on an ordinance which would have allocated up to $50 million to expand the Kootenai County jail. I voted "no" not because of the high cost but because of the poor value the high cost represents.

Let me use an analogy to explain my "no" vote.

Suppose I have an operable brain tumor that is giving me headaches. However, I don't want to acknowledge that I have the tumor, so I take an aspirin for the headache. Voila! The headache goes away. I feel fine for a while, but then the headache comes back, more painful than before. So I take not just one but two aspirin. Once again, the headache goes away, but then it comes back with increased pain. Many bottles of aspirin later, I finally decide to have the operation. By that time, the tumor has grown, the operation will be more costly, and the surgeons might not be able to fully remove the tumor. The first aspirin gave symptomatic relief from the headache, but it only masked the pain associated with the growing problem of the tumor. On top of that, all the aspirin I took has now caused internal bleeding.

In my analogy, the headache represents an overloaded Kootenai County jail. Jail overcrowding is only symptomatic of the underlying shortcomings in Kootenai County's criminal justice system. The first aspirin represents the $50 million it could have cost to expand the jail. And the tumor? The tumor represents Kootenai County's entire criminal justice system with all its associated deficiencies. I can mask the tumor's pain (jail overcrowding) with symptomatic relief (expanding the existing jail), but that only allows the tumor (underlying shortcomings of the criminal justice system) to grow until it becomes too painful and too large to address with symptomatic relief.

The basis for my analogy is in the "Jail and Sheriff's Office Expansion Study" prepared for the Kootenai County Board of Commissioners under a $76,700 professional services contract awarded to KMB Justice Facilities Group.

The Expansion Study made it crystal clear that the $50 million jail expansion now ("now" meaning in three years when the expansion would have been completed and the new facilities opened) would have to be redone in another 9-12 years at an as yet undetermined cost. The Expansion Study did nothing to address the underlying social causes of jail overcrowding. Up to $50 million in aspirin, and we're still stuck with the tumor.

The Expansion Study did point out something very important that was not mentioned during any of the public meetings I saw or in any newspaper columns: The existing sheriff's office space is inadequate for its present staffing, and that staffing will have to increase if the jail capacity increases. The same was represented as true for the courts holding facility. In other words, the present $50 million request was almost certain to be followed with a separate request to fund an improved sheriff's office facility and courts holding facility.

After examining the Expansion Study, I was left with a nagging question: Why did Kootenai County hire KMB Justice Facilities Group and pay it $76,700 for that study? An appropriate study that addressed the underlying criminal justice issues in the county (not just jail expansion) should have been done by the Kootenai County Sheriff in cooperation with other administrators in the county criminal justice system. Indeed, that type of data gathering and analysis needs to be done continually, not just when a crisis surfaces.

Kootenai County citizens need to understand that the elected sheriff of Kootenai County is no longer just a cop. He is supposed to be a public administrator with the knowledge, skills, abilities, and education that prepares him to skillfully manage multimillion dollar budgets. He needs other skills in planning, organizing, staffing, directing, coordinating, and reporting. Maybe the failure of the jail expansion measure will be a wake-up call to the county to insist that our sheriff and his command staff perform their duties professionally rather than politically.


Blogger Happy X. Dopey said...

While I understand your points Bill, I can't say I agree completely. The problem, as I see it, is that it is too late to fix the underlying problems at this point. The county did such a poor job planning for the most recent expansion (finished only a few years ago and still not paid for) that they are back where they started again. They should have looked at the underlying issues at that time and dealt with those issues. Might have fixed the problem. Unfortunately, while those issues still need to be addressed, it is too late to prevent the need for more expansion at this point. It will be needed regardless of what else is done. Also, a little publicized fact is that the current expansion plans include expansion of the existing Sheriff's Department. For my money, I think that it makes more sense (although, certainly more expensive in the short term) to relocate the fairgrounds and use that space to build a large county/court/sheriff's dept complex. This eliminates the need for transports to court and the need for holding facilities. In addition, the existing facility downtown could likely be sold for a decent amount. I know that the commissioners might have to give up their lovely lake view, but so be it. Makes more sense to me.

11:37 PM, November 11, 2005  
Blogger Bill McCrory said...


Good for you! Unlike most people, you apparently read the Jail Expansion Study done by KMB Justice Facilities Group. Consequently, I have a lot of respect for your disagreeing with me.

It was interesting watching the Ad Hoc Jail Expansion Advisory Committee on cable channel 19. There were few people in the audience, but the two women who spoke (Shirley Thagard and Irma Anderl) were better informed and far more eloquent than the people on the committee. My own opinion is that the county commissioners formed that committee to diffuse their and the sheriff's responsibilities (spread the blame if the measure fails and claim the fame if it succeeds) and to get the rubber stamp of approval for the plan ultimately rejected by the voters.

The underlying problems with the jail are symptomatic of the underlying problems with the county's criminal justice system in toto. I'm not sure the county's administrators have the skill or the will to begin to address the problems and also to begin the long, painful, expensive process to fix them. I'm also fairly sure they lack the imagination to address the problems. As the 9/11 Commission Report noted in Chapter 11 and particularly at page 344, "Imagination is not a gift usually associated with bureaucracies."

The conversion of the fairgrounds was mentioned in the Expansion Study as well. As Irma Anderl said in her public comments, is that location so close to a high school where you want an enlarged jail?

There are other options, but I'm not sure the county will be willing to examine them.

7:47 AM, November 12, 2005  
Blogger Bill McCrory said...

I forgot to mention that when Irma Anderl suggested building the new jail somewhere else, further from where it would expose residents to the risks inherent in living, shopping, and schooling near a custody facility, she was told that the county did not own any land suitable. Yet a few moments later in the conversation, she was then told that when the inevitable expansion would be done in another ten years or so, the county would try to find the land then. Hmmm. Does the committee really believe that in ten years (+/-) when an expanded jail needs to be expanded again, that land not available today will suddently, magically, mysteriously appear. That's a load of equine fecal material.

8:03 AM, November 12, 2005  
Blogger Dogwalkmusings said...

You certainly took this a step further than I did. I appreciate the background and am in total agreement with you.

8:41 AM, November 12, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill -
You said that; "...staffing will have to increase if the jail capacity increases." Staffing is a function of the number of inmates, not the size of the jail. With an overcrowded jail staffing will increase even more, as prisoners will have to be transported to other states at significant expense.
As for ".. the underlying criminal justice issuses in the county..", be specific. There are numerous diversion programs in existence and I have yet to hear anyone be able to give a specific as to what we are lacking.
Is all anyone has to do is take a look at the growth in the area and it is obvious as to why there is corresponding growth in the jail population.
Ms. Andrerl was not told that the county would try and find land elsewhere after this expansion. The future expansion plans include room at the current location. Building an entirely new facility elsewhere would cost a fortune. Plus, there isn't much market for old jails!

6:02 PM, November 16, 2005  

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