By Rachel Leber
POCATELLO, Idaho — The Bannock County Detention Center in Pocatello has experienced severe overcrowding over the past few years. Bannock County commissioners and others on the project revealed plans on how to solve the issue at a meeting on Sept. 15.
The proposed $16 million plan laid out an expansion of the detention center that would add 120 to 160 beds to the jail facility itself to solve its recent severe overcrowding issues. Additionally, the expansion would include a 20-bed crisis center — with 100 percent voluntary admission on the part of those checking in — and a 40-bed treatment center. The goal of the behavioral care center would be to give those admitted to the facility 24-hour care, and to help with mental health issues, behavioral problems and substance abuse issues.
The proposed plans for the jail expansion is twofold; it is the view of the county commissioners making the proposal that overcrowding of the jail is a result of behavioral and substance abuse issues in the community. The contention of those in support of the project is that the community needs to help prevent the incarceration of those who don’t need to be incarcerated out of jail, which especially includes people with drug and mental health problems. This is a primary issue for those who have created the proposal, compounded with the fact that the overcrowding of the jail is to such an extreme that inmates have had to sleep on mattresses in the booking area at times.
The expansion currently has the support of the mayor of Chubbuck — a city in Bannock County — as well as the mayor of Pocatello, and the Idaho state university Portneuf Medical Center — and many more. There is also support from Bannock county judges and prosecutors. If approved, the jail expansion would allow judges and prosecutors to sentence people to time in the treatment center as a first measure — with a goal of rehabilitation — rather than sending them immediately to the jail.
The fact of overcrowding and overflow into the booking area has been a source of overwhelm for Bannock County deputies for years, as well as the overcrowding costing taxpayers money. A similar proposal was made by county commissioners last year with an $18 million bond, and the proposal was voted against. The hope of the county commissioners on the project is that when the time comes to vote again this November, the proposal will be approved.