Justice Center, a hot topic at Commission meeting

By Charity Maness

HOT SPRINGS – In front of a standing-room-only audience, multiple speakers – many of whom are professionals in their fields – addressed the Fall River County Commission at their regular meeting last Thursday, Jan. 18, regarding the potential of a new Justice Center to be built in or around Hot Springs.

Judge Craig Pfeifle, Fall River County presiding judge, spoke first.

 “I sense our county is in a sense of disarray right now, we are all working for a jail solution, it may not be your first choice, but some concessions need to be made.”

“I appreciate the challenges you are walking through as you go through this process,” said Pfeifle, “whatever path the Commission chooses, my hope is that you consider to continue to partner with us for our needs.”

 “We are at a place of significant security concerns,” said Pfeifle, who is also a member of the Unified Judicial System Statewide Security Committee. “Where we are at today is a concern for public and staff safety. Quite candidly I believe you should move forward with the Justice Center.”

County Commissioner Joe Falkenburg questioned funding while fellow Commissioner Heath Greenough questioned the possibility of collecting in excess of $3 million owed to the county in unpaid court costs as a way to help fund a jail project.

Pfeifle stated there were monies available, but not to cover the entire cost. He also stated that under the 6th amendment “We are all constitutionally required to provide services for those who can’t afford them.” Yet he agrees that the counties should not be shouldering the full financial responsibility for this. Pointing to the formation of the Indigent Defense Task Force, “which was designed to recognize that this should be something that doesn’t rest on the shoulders of the county; the state should have some responsibility.” 

According to Kent Hanson – Chief U.S. Probation Officer/Pretrial Officer (retired) – the need for a new jail has been an issue for years. “Judge Davis came to speak to the commission 10 years ago with the same result, if not now, when? When the price tag goes to $150 million? I ask you to take a fresh look.” 

Hanson pointed to the jail population growth in excess of 500% in South Dakota, and with the state being the seventh most popular state to relocate causing a constant influx of people, growth is imminent.

Before he turned the microphone over to the U.S. Marshall Representative – to discuss the possibility of the Fall River County Sheriff’s Office (FRCSO) taking in federal inmates under contract as a form of income – Hanson wanted to dispel some preconceived notions the public may hold of federal inmates. 

“They are no higher risk, no greater danger, unpredictable, crazy, addicted, alcoholic, or troubled than you have seen in this jail,” he said. “No federal judge can sentence a federal inmate to county jail. You would see possible higher profile cases and you may see more individuals from Pine Ridge given the federal designation.”

Federal arrestees require no more than what is currently required by South Dakota law for any jail. The codes in the American Correctional Association (ACA) outline exactly what is required for jails.

Whether the jail is currently in compliance with ACA codes was brought to the commission’s attention but was not addressed, as Commissioner Falkenburg requested that any ACA code non-compliance not be aired publicly at this juncture.

“We do have a need for placement,” said John Runner with the U.S. Marshalls Supervisor Western Division, who added that the western division inmate daily management numbers are at 230 (+/– 10), with that population increasing. “There is an opportunity to place people I would be more than happy to use any beds you have available. If it’s not with Fall River County it will go to other counties.” 

A potential contract would be for three years, and would clarify percent bed usage, longevity, daily rates, transport rates, return of ‘bad’ inmates, medical, etc. 

Runner stated that most inmates would be housed for between 5-6 weeks. Stating that generally an inmate sentenced to more than a year would be moved. All inmates sentenced on indictments would go to a Federal Detention Facility.

“We are looking for jails for those with less jail time,” said Runner. “If you had a facility today, I could bring you 30 today.” 

Most Federal inmates are processed through Pennington, which can take 2 to 3 weeks, yet while they await a hearing, attorney meeting, etc., they need to be held elsewhere.

According to Judge Pfeifle, Pennington County is currently releasing federal prisoners due to the need for beds for locals with no current plan to expand.

Rachel Hosterman, FRCSO administrative assistant, spoke to those in attendance regarding the need for the proposed Justice Center.

“We need a new facility, that is modern, more secure for our inmates, our employees, our law enforcement officers and the public,” said Hosterman. “There is no single perfect solution. We need to trust the experts.”

Osterman also presented the following facts through a power point:

• The current jail opened in 1972 with no direct access to courthouse

• South Dakota Codified Law (SDCL) 24-11-2 states that the establishment of county jails are at the expense of the county. SDCL 24-11-3 states that if a county has no jail or if it is insufficient, county pays for jail housing elsewhere.

• The current average daily jail population is 19 with no kitchen. All meals are purchased through outside sources

• A Jail is not a Prison – jail is for pre-trial detainees

• If justice Center is built the county courthouse will continue to operate holding the treasurer’s office, auditor’s office, and hopes of consolidating other county offices in remote facilities into one location, ie: county nurse, DOE, South Annex, storage, etc.

• Of the 25 jails in South Dakota, only five are located West River.

Hosterman said the FRCSO sees the Justice Center as a viable option without added taxation to resident, especially since there is already some county-owned land available to build on Hwy 71, located just past Fall River Health Services. In addition, the county has access to a USDA Rural development community facilities loan at 3.75 percent interest for up to 40 years. Plus, there is the income from federal inmates.

County Commissioner Les Cope was adamantly opposed, citing budget, while fellow Commissioner Deb Russell was in favor, citing safety.

“I don’t see how we can make this safe,” Russell said. “We need a Justice Center.”

Falkenburg and Commissioner Joe Allen desired more information on other possible renditions that were not as costly. 

“There is a lot you have designed into this building, and I don’t know if we can afford to keep ‘em but I would like to try,” said Greenough. “There are a lot of security issues I would like to see. If we could get a watered down version, we could afford at the time, build a building that we could expand on at a later date.”

“We will never live to see the end of this paid off,” said Falkenburg, and asked for a plan in the $8 to $12 million range. “It wouldn’t be so scary.”

Corey Miller, President of Elevatus Architecture, welcomed the opportunity to sit down with Falkenburg and Allen to discuss alternative options, keeping in mind that whatever path is chosen will be designed for growth; growth now or in the future. “It’s not just space,” he said, “it’s how it’s organized. Any plan submitted will be easy to expand in the future.”

Each size rendering submitted will also generate stats for staffing levels needed.

In a letter read to the commission, former commissioner Paul Nabholz said he found that the jail in Winner, S.D., has been making money since 2016, with many county jails utilizing them for overflow, as well as the US Marshall using them for placement of federal inmates. Pennington County sends some of their local inmates to Winner to make room for Federal inmates at a profit. He also stated that Commissioner Travis Lassiter of Pennington County plans to expand 50-60 beds and believes that there will be little need for bed space for Federal inmates elsewhere once that is complete.

“I am competing with Wyoming, Nebraska, and other states for beds,” said U.S. Marshall Runner, reiterating the need for beds.

Fall River County Herald Star

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