(The Center Square) – Stevens County Commission Chair Greg Young doesn’t know how to raise $90 million to replace the derelict jail with a full justice center, but he is determined to find a funding path if one exists.
“It’s a public safety issue that has to be dealt with,” he told The Center Square. “We’ve got to do something about this because our jail isn’t a safe place for workers, and no one being held there is going to get better.”
Young has already reached out to Eastern Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, to see what federal funding might be available.
He plans to bring mayors of cities that utilize the jail together to explore funding options, such as raising the local sales tax.
“Crime is going up everywhere right now and we have to be able to hold people accountable for the harm they do,” said Young. “I know that families are struggling with inflation and the high cost of fuel, so it seems like a bad time to be looking at such a huge expense, but the longer we wait the more we are going to pay. And this is something that has got to be done.”
He cited the rejection of voters in the early 2000s for two bond levy proposals that would have funded construction of a new jail for $12 million. Today, he said the cheapest option given the county by consultants was $16 million and that model didn’t meet space needs.
Young said the price tag originally affixed by consultants to the new justice center model was slightly over $66 million, but inflation has already driven anticipated costs up by tens of thousands.
“It’s just going to get worse the longer we wait,” he said.
Young served as supervisor of the jail in the basement of the courthouse in Colville before being elected to the District 3 seat on the commission in 2020. One of his top campaign issues was replacing the jail to improve working conditions of corrections officers and provide rehabilitation opportunities for inmates.
“It is a terrible environment for everyone because there is no natural sunlight and, sometimes, hardly room to move,” said Young.
The existing jail was built in 1978 with 22 single cells but was quickly outgrown. Eventually, bunk beds were added so the jail population could double. Now there can be up to 60 people in the facility, which Young said requires mattresses to be laid out on floors to get three inmates in some 6x8 cells.
Sometimes, mattresses are placed in the visiting/conference room or another secure area. There is nowhere for inmates to exercise.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Young said suspects were not jailed unless they posed a danger to themselves or others, so the population of inmates was much lower.
However, he said with courts back to “business as usual” after lifting of pandemic restrictions, there are once again about 55 people behind bars on any given day, and often more.
The jail is so old, said Young, that corrections officers carry the old brass keys seen in movies to lock and unlock every door they pass through because electronic security hardware is not available.
Narrow hallways limit visibility around corners, creating a safety risk, as do staircases that do not allow officers to be on both sides of an inmate being moved to court or another location.
“It’s unsafe,” said Young. “And it’s a place where inmates sometimes stay for years.”
He said the jail does not have enough room to hold church or have classes for inmates that can teach them job skills and help line them up with resources to stabilize their lives.
“It isn’t enough to just lock people up, we need to work to help them get rehabilitated,” he said.
The latest planning effort for a new jail began several years ago when the county hired Rich Siddons of RS Security LLC, a firm based in Nine Mile Falls, to research costs involved in a new jail model. Officials asked for space in a future facility for 100 single cells to meet growth needs.
After taking a field trip to see other jails in the state, county officials became interested in establishing a justice center that would consolidate services by putting district and superior courts in the same facility as the jail.
To date, the county has paid $69,347 for RS Security’s development of four potential options.
Although the full justice center, is the most expensive among the four options, Young said it would best serve the county.
The 85,200-square-foot justice center would be sited across the street from the courthouse on property where the commissioners’ offices are currently located. That parcel is partially vacant but has the complication of building around a largely underground creek.
The center design involves a three-level building with a jail on the bottom floor and courtrooms above. A mezzanine allows corrections officers to easily watch the movement of inmates, which is expected to reduce staffing levels to pare down operational costs.
To accommodate the center, the commissioner offices will shift to the courthouse, where the prosecutor's offices will remain. The space once used for courtrooms will be turned over to the auditor and other departments to relieve overcrowding.