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Study: Canyon County Jail needs about 1,000 new beds for inmates

Commissioners say the study should tell them how long the current facilities can effectively be used, how many beds and the types of beds that will be needed in the next five years, what it will cost to build and operate a new jail, how much space is needed, and what the current facilities can be used for later on.

Canyon County Commissioners recently hired a nationally recognized group to conduct a comprehensive study into the jail’s overcrowding issue. The study is not complete but the research so far shows that the county needs 1,000 beds, which is two times the amount it currently has.

Commissioners say the study should tell them how long the current facilities can effectively be used, how many beds and the types of beds that will be needed in the next five years, what it will cost to build and operate a new jail, how much space is needed, and what the current facilities can be used for later on.

In a phone interview, Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue said the county is at a crisis point.

He says one reason for overcrowding is an influx of violent criminals coming into county jails from state prisons.

Donahue explained that housing arrangements within the facility are complex. For example, women can’t be housed with men and rival gang members must be separated.

Although there are open beds, they do not work for the type of inmates the county has in custody.

"We have a lot of people who are not in jail who quite frankly should be in jail,” Donahue said. “And believe it or not it's because we simply have no room for them."

In an attempt to decrease the number of people in the jails, the judiciary has placed 600 people in a programs called pretrial. Officials say a large number of those people should be in custody instead.

Commissioners are trying to get answers now so this doesn’t continue to be a problem in the future.

"There's a cost to doing nothing,” said Tom Dale, county commissioner. “That cost will continue to increase and continue to be a burden on the tax payers of canyon county if we do nothing. At some point we're going to have to meet this need."

Building a larger facility has been proposed in the past and the county even bought a piece of land for a future facility.

The public has voted against three bonds to fund a larger jail.

Dale says this is the first time a proposal could be supported by a scientific study. It should help the public better understand the overcrowding problem.

Canyon County wants the public to be involved in the process and is inviting anyone to see the conditions in the jail for themselves. Anyone who is interested in learning more about the current conditions of the Canyon County jail can book a tour by calling the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office.

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