Jackson County committee continues to look for solutions after failed jail vote

MAQUOKETA (AP) — Following the rejection of a $6.9 million bond measure to finance the construction of a new county jail, members of an advisory committee have decided to continue working to solve the county's jailing troubles.

"I think we as a committee did a pretty good job of being transparent," said Steve Schroeder, chief deputy with the Jackson County Sheriff's Department and committee chairman. "We did everything possible – textbook – that we could have done."

Unofficial results from the Jackson County Auditor's Office showed that the measure received support from about 53 percent of voters in Tuesday's special election. A 60 percent supermajority was needed for the measure to pass. Nearly 21 percent of the electorate voted.

The Iowa Department of Corrections has stated that the current Jackson County Jail is deficient. The building, constructed in 1972 on Niagara Street, was flagged for several deficiencies, including lack of an exercise yard, lack of a visitation area separated from secure areas and lack of sufficient lighting.

The facility could be shut down in coming weeks, Schroeder said.

"I'm guessing that's 30 to 60 days out, if that," he said.

Schroeder said the facility will be inspected again by the Iowa State Sheriffs' & Deputies' Association, which will issue a report.

The DOC's chief jail inspector indicated to Schroeder he will issue a letter advising Jackson County of a shutdown if the association also deems the facility deficient.

A representative from the Iowa Department of Corrections did not respond to a request for comment, but Schroeder said he was told Wednesday by the state jail inspector that "Jackson County's jail is the 'unsafest jail in Iowa.'"

Committee members said they hope to bring another bond measure to a referendum in six months – the next possible opportunity. They agreed to meet again to assess ways to address voter concerns.

Jackson County Supervisor Jack Willy suggested that voters might have felt overwhelmed with sticker shock.

The largest number of "no" votes came from Bellevue, St. Donatus and La Motte. More than 63 percent of ballots cast in each community were against the project.

In Maquoketa, where the current jail is located, more than 70 percent of voters were in favor of the project.

Schroeder said he heard citizen complaints both about the cost of the jail, which would have 28 beds, and its proposed location on Carlisle Street in Maquoketa.

"The costs are not going to go down in the future for either building a new jail or transporting prisoners out of county," Schroeder said.

Currently, the county houses several inmates in Dubuque and Cedar counties, he said.

Taxpayers would pay an additional $261,000 the first year to house inmates out of the county, according to consulting firm Shive-Hattery, of West Des Moines, with whom the committee worked. By 2028, the cost of housing inmates out of county is expected to exceed that of bond payments on a new facility.