"Corrections is the unsung hero of law enforcement. They don't get the credit that they deserve as part of the law enforcement family and they have a very tough job to do."
The deadly attack at the Anamosa State Penitentiary earlier this week has highlighted the need for a new jail here in Woodbury County.
"You can never make sure violence doesn't happen," said Woodbury County Chief Deputy Tony Wingert. "You can't control everything. You can only do your best."
There are more than 230 inmates currently being held in the jail, but the 34-year-old facility was made for only 87.
"In reference to Eastern Iowa, it can be built a lot safer," Wingert said of the current facility. "This is old technology, this is old style. We've become more intelligent in how we house inmates, and we need to be upgraded."
Wingert says with the current jail, it takes more officers to keep staff and inmates safe than it would with a new, modern facility. But now the rising cost of materials has thrown a new wrench in the plans.
The authority took a major step forward in the construction of a new Woodbury County jail, approving the purchase of land on 28th Street for the new jail and officially opened the bidding process for the dirt work.
The project is coming in above the initial budget because of the pandemic, but both city officials and the sheriff's office say this project needs to be a top priority for the county.
"COVID has affected the project greatly," said authority chairman Ron Weick. "The number that we project is almost $8 million and most of that has come on since October."
The original projected cost of $50 million has gone up due to increases in the cost of materials during the pandemic. The jail authority plans to use federal Cares Act money the county is receiving to help offset the increase in price, which includes a 70% hike in steel alone.
"If numbers continue to go up and we don't move forward, our scenario just continues to get worse," Weick said.
Not only that, but we continue to have problems with the building across the street and that is," he continued, "who knows when a major piece of that building fails and it can no longer be utilized, then the Sheriff's Department is looking at having to transport prisoners outside of Woodbury County."
Wingert agreed, saying the problems with the old building will cause a bigger headache for the county the longer they wait. "It's important to get done now because you can spend a lot, $50 million is a lot, but you can have the building go bad, our chillers and our HVAC system, that we'd have to move inmates out. Then it's going to cost taxpayers even more and we are still not going to have the problem fixed."
The new jail will be built on 28th Street just across from Lake Forest Mobile Home Park and Wingert says taxpayers can rest easy knowing that any funding used on the project will ultimately help keep the community safe.
"You don't want to lose somebody's life, either an inmate's life or an officer's life," Wingert said. "No amount of money is going to make that better. I'm a taxpayer, I don't want my taxes raised. I think we can do this in such a way that we won't have to raise taxes and we need to take advantage of that."
As plans move forward on the new jail, corrections staff continue their work inside the jail.
"Our men and women of the Sheriff's Office, they work hard every day and they know that when they go inside the facility that there could be danger done on them," he said about his corrections team. "There could be violence. Our people do a really good job and they work their butts off to keep Woodbury County safe."
The authority will soon be accepting bids for the dirt work at the new jail site, with plans to begin construction early this summer.
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