ST. ANTHONY — The Fremont County Jail is routinely over capacity, and it’s not unusual for jail officials to take prisoners to Madison County to be housed. As a result, Fremont County officials are considering renovating the jail or building a new one.
Fremont County Sheriff Len Humphries wants to double the jail’s bed space from 20 to 40.
“We don’t have enough space. We’ve outgrown it,” he said.
While the county needs a new or expanded jail, Humphries doesn’t want county taxpayers to bear the brunt of the cost to finance one. Humphries noted that in 2003, taxpayers defeated a proposal for a new jail. The measure required a supermajority, and it received 60 percent of the vote, short of the 66 percent required.
Humphries said that the state or other counties renting bed space from Fremont County would cover the cost of a new facility. He said the state currently pays $55 a day for the first week an inmate spends in the jail but that increases to $75 a day for additional days.
“If we could have a more economically run jail, it would be better. Our cost per inmate per day puts it at the most expensive jail in the state at $100 a day per inmate,” he said. “Running a jail is an expensive proposition.”
The county also winds up spending money to house its overflow male inmates at the Madison County Jail. Fremont County always sends its women inmates to Madison, as it doesn’t have a jail designed for females.
“In December, I sent Madison County $6,500. It’s usually been between $4,000 and $6,000 a month,” he said.
In the meantime, renovating or building a new jail would require contractors to follow specific rules, Humphries said.
“There are standards that have to be met. It’s not like a standard building. There are a lot of specifics,” he said.
Humphries and the County Commissioners met Jan. 16 with Jeffrey H. Tamkin and Kyle J. Hines of the Public Facilities and Infrastructure Corporation organization to discuss the company creating a feasibility study for a new jail. The company is well known for building jail facilities.
Hines noted that jails come with a lot of requirements, especially for federal prisoners.
“There’s a lot of stuff that’s out there. I know you don’t have federal prisoners, but it’s better to (design for them) in case you need to house them,” he said.
Hines said that Public Facilities Investment Corporation representatives conduct walk-throughs of current jail facilities to see what the options might be for renovations.
“We’ve gone into buildings before that didn’t quite work. It would cost more to renovate and expand them than it would to build a brand-new facility,” he said. “In the newer modern facilities, you can put more beds in and not actually increase staffing.”
Fremont County’s jail was built in the late 1970s or early 1980s.
Tamkin and Hines plan to crunch some numbers to see how much a new jail would cost.
County Commissioner Jordan Stoddard said that before they start any kind of planning, they’d need to know a cost.
“We can’t enter into something if we can’t afford it,” he said.
Tamkin said that his company could create a sample agreement for the county.
“We can get some examples of similar projects, so you’ll get a ballpark figure on what it’s going to cost,” he said.
Public Facilities Investment Corporation officials said a feasibility study could cost the county between $30,000 to $50,000.
“We can give you an estimate based upon what we find out on our preliminary drawings and study sessions. We can find comparable facilities. We’ll be able to come up with a preliminary design and cost,” Tamkin said.
Tamkin reported that the Public Facilities Investment Corporation divides its various projects into four phases with the first being the feasibility study.
“You make a decision whether you want to continue. If you want to move forward, but (you say) ‘This is our budget,’ so we eliminate certain functions within that building so you can afford it,” he said.
Hines said that will help the county see what it needs to do to move forward on the new project.
“Once that first step is done, you’ll have a clear idea and a good framework on how to proceed and how not to proceed,” he said.
For information on the Public Facilities Investment Corporation, visit publicfacilities.com.