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Bannock County Jail working with U.S. Marshal on possible grant for jail expansion

After several failed attempts to pass a jail expansion bond, Bannock County is now working with U.S. Marshals in Idaho to come to an agreement to help get that needed expansion.

Overcrowding at the Bannock County Jail is not a new problem, but it is an increasing one. Sheriff Lorin Nielsen said they need to find a solution.

It’s not just Bannock County seeing a problem with lack of space for inmates.

With no room at Bannock County, the feds are forced to send federal inmates out of county and away from the federal courthouse in Pocatello.

The federal government has to pay to house their inmates elsewhere, then pay an added cost of transportation and other associated fees to get them back and forth for court hearings.

“The need is there for both the feds and us,” Nielsen said. “We’re both sending people out of our county. We have to take officers to go and pick them up, to attend their court, to attend their attorneys, all the things that have to be done and they do the same thing.”

Nielsen said Bannock County spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to house inmates elsewhere. The sheriff said the budget for this year was $400,000 and he expects to go through that before the year is done.

By working with the marshals, Bannock County and the feds are applying for a CAP grant. The grant could get the jail $8 million in federal funding.

As part of the agreement, the expansion would be a minimum of about 200 beds. The federal government would reserve 60 to 75 beds for federal prisoners. 60 of those beds are guaranteed rentals so even if they aren’t being used, Bannock County Jail is getting paid for them. That could bring in an estimated $1.5 to $2 million per year for the jail. Nielsen said that money could go to operating costs for the jail.

“I don’t’ see a downside to it,” Nielsen said. “Whenever they’re released, they’re released to prisons outside of Idaho. And these are only for Idaho federal inmates.”

Meaning, Nielsen said, that Bannock County would not be getting “Al Capones from other cities.” It would be prisoners from Idaho being housed there awaiting trial. Bannock County already houses some federal inmates so that’s nothing new.

Nielsen said this is all preliminary at this point, but he’s on board.

“The devil is in the details and we’re trying to work out the details but what an opportunity to be able to have some of our federal tax dollars assisting us in building what we feel will be a good addition to what we already have and also bring up what we’ve already got and have a win win for both our federal courts and also our local courts,” Nielsen commented.

He said right now, they have about 30 to 45 days to fill out the grant application and go from there. Once that’s nailed down and they know the amount of funding they get, if any, they can move forward with negotiations and next steps from there.

Nielsen said nothing is set in stone, but this is a good option to consider.

If the jail were to get that $8 million in federal funding, the county would still need to come up with their half – another $8 million.

Nielsen said they have several possibilities they could look at to do that, including bringing another bond to the voters, but a significantly smaller one.

Or he said, if voted down again, they may have to look at other options like leasing, or using reserves and trying to borrow the rest. He said that’s part of the planning they are working on now as well because if they get the federal amount, they have to be able to show they can come up with the rest.

Nielsen said if they do try a bond, it would likely not be ready to go for May ballots.

The sheriff also added that depending on the amount of funding, and several other factors, the added treatment and rehabilitation center that was part of the bond ballot proposal, may not be in the cards. He said right now, the treatment center is questionable. He said that will be something that would have to be discussed later. Right now, first things first, they need to focus on getting the federal funding.

The last vote in November 2017 for the $16 million bond was approved by a lot of the voters, but did not get the super majority to pass it. It missed it by less than one percent.

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