SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A 100-year-old jail is the focus of a lawsuit filed by several former Walworth County inmates.
The lawsuit filed by seven people against Walworth County and the Walworth County Board of Commissioners and each of the five commissioners in their official and individual capacities demands the jail be closed because it’s “outdated, grossly inadequate, and dangerous.”
Describing the jail as outdated would not be new in the county. The jail was built in 1909 and had an addition in 1999.
In June of 2017, Brad Hompe of the National Institute of Corrections said “the aging and outdated facility has been a significant source of concern as it relates to the overall security and safety of staff, inmates and community.” The report concluded with a recommendation that county commissioners continue to plan for a concept proposal to address needs, which could include a new jail.
Hompe’s report said county Sheriff Joshua D. Boll contacted the NIC to conduct an operation assessment.
Hompe’s assessment included a list of health and safety concerns and suggestions to rectify those concerns.
One concern cited in the report was, “Insufficient staffing levels are immediately noticeable at this jail.”
Hompe said there was an “immediate need to increase staffing” and to analyze positions and staff numbers to properly determine staff numbers and placement of staff.
Boll said on Sept. 29 the jail staff numbers have increased since Hompe’s report. He had increased staff to 15 but budget cuts reduced the number to 13, Boll said. At 13, Boll said the correct staffing ratios are met but it requires the staff to work overtime.
Inadequate staffing posed health and safety risks for staff and inmates, Hompe’s report said.
The jail’s control command desk was not consistently covered because of staffing shortages, the report said.
Two staff members on duty doesn’t allow staff to cover the command center and to respond to emergencies if a staff member needs help or an inmate needs help, according to Hompe’s report.
The staffing numbers that existed in June of 2017 also mean that jail staff was not able to actively supervise and monitor other than in the regular 30 minute intervals, the report said.
Boll said staff numbers were increased and other changes were made in order to properly supervise a 32-bed jail.
Boll said several other safety concerns cited in the 2017 study were also addressed including improving security door locks.
Hompe’s report also cited limitations to the jail including bringing visitors through the same sally port area where inmates are picked up and dropped off.
Visitors are also routed through the inmate booking area, which poses numerous safety and security concerns, the report said.
Also, the space layout of the jail means high-risk inmates pass by inmates who may be gathered in a common area and the jail is not ADA accessible, the report said. That situation can increase the risk of a staff or inmate hostage situation, the report said.
Boll said he was able to address concerns such as locks and staffing, but it’s much more difficult to correct structural limitations and issues.
Other structural issues include steep stairs to one section of the jail, which also has household-grade restroom plumbing and glass windows and aging infrastructure, according to Hompe’s report.
Walworth County did develop a plan to build a new $10.5 million regional jail facility in 2018, which was rejected by voters.
Boll said he continues to work with county officials on a possible solution including a new regional jail.
The jail houses county inmates but it also serves other counties who do not have a jail or can’t find room for an inmate, Boll said.
Hompe cited in his report the valuable service the jail provides and while “Boll and the staff were committed to operating a safe and secure jail” they would need the support of county commissioners to do that.
Walworth County States Attorney Jamie Hare said changes had been made in the jail since the 2017 report, particularly with staffing numbers but that other changes would be more difficult or challenging to make.
The report also included information on several lawsuits involving jails and prisons.
This multiple person lawsuit isn’t the only recent lawsuit involving Walworth County Jail. Two lawsuits have been filed by former inmates that alleged improper medical care were settled.