New jail ushers in new procedures

Clinton County Sheriff's Deputy Steve Diesch speaks to the Clinton Area Chamber of Commerce Leadership Institute class Monday.Winona Whitaker/Clinton Herald

CLINTON — "There isn't one thing we'll do the same in the new jail that we did in the old jail," Clinton County Deputy Sheriff Steve Diesch told the Clinton Area Chamber of Commerce Leadership Institute this week.

During its final class, Chamber members enrolled in the Leadership Institute viewed a slide presentation of the new correctional facilities nearing completion behind the county courthouse.

The new jail is connected to the courthouse which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981. The jail was built at an angle to lessen its impact on view of the historic building, Diesch said.

Features of the new jail reduce the amount of contact correctional officers and the public have with inmates, increasing safety and reducing need for additional staff. The county employees 16 corrections officers to cover 112 beds, Diesch said.

Diesch hadn't intended to add staff, he said, but he had to hire people to man the control room 24 hours a day. From the control room one person can control all pods, doors, lights, cameras.

The old jail has about 16 cameras, Diesch said. The new jail will have about 180.

Next to the pods where inmates live, are meeting rooms for attorneys and their clients, Diesch said. From the control room, a correctional officer can inform an inmate which room an attorney is waiting in and unlock doors accordingly. The inmate doesn't have to be escorted, making better use of staff time and reducing risk to officers.

The new jail has classrooms where inmates can earn GEDs through Clinton Community College, Diesch said. Iowa Workforce will visit the jail free of charge to help inmates with job-related tasks such as writing resumes or filling out job applications, Diesch said.

A new food service, Aramarc, will not only provide inmate meals but can teach inmates food-service skills that could earn them certification or help them find employment in the industry after their release.

Visitors to the jail will talk with inmates via video, Diesch said. Instead of having to physically escort an inmate to a visiting room, officers can activate a screen in the inmate's room and, at the same time, activate a screen in the lobby where the visitor is located.

Maintenance crews can work behind the walls of the pods without having to enter the jail facility or come in contact with inmates, Diesch said.

The exercise yard is actually a room with an open space that lets in sunlight and fresh air. Inmates will be allowed to walk laps around the room, but the county didn't put up basketball hoops because of the risk of injuries. Medical treatment for inmates is paid for by the county, Diesch said. Supplemental Security Income and Title XIX doesn't cover people while they are incarcerated, he said

The new jail provides an area in which a nurse can treat inmates and has three medical cells with negative airflow for sick inmates to keep other staff and other inmates from breathing infected air.

The new jail's laundry room has commercial machines -- two 75-pound washers and two 125-pound dryers, said Diesch. The current jail uses the same type of machines that people have in their homes. The layout at the new jail will allow correctional officers to lock inmates in the area.

Currently inmate workers have free reign of the hallways, Diesch said. The new jail is arranged to allow officers to lock areas, thus controlling the movement of inmates. "We're changing the whole way we do business," Diesch said.

The new, larger kitchen will be better for preparing all meals for inmates. The former cook quit and the county was buying food for prisoners three times a day, Diesch said. Inmate's loved it, and they loved to work in the kitchen because they were allowed to eat the leftovers, he said.

At the new jail, food service provider Aramarc will make meals onsite. While mechanically separated chicken -- a paste-like meat product made of pureed meat -- may sound unappetizing, the meals meet caloric and nutritional standards, and because Aramarc measures the food, the county isn't paying for leftovers.

"We're saving... almost $20,000 a year just going to food service," Diesch said.

Inmates will be escorted to the courtroom through a corridor attached to the second floor of the courthouse. Prisoners will no longer have to go outside the building to make their court dates. "[That's] a huge safety thing," Diesch said.

The room for dispatchers who answers 911 calls has windows, wide open spaces and large work spaces. "That's my favorite place right now," said Diesch. Everything dispatchers need is at their fingertips, he said.

The current jail population is 65, Diesch said, and probation has about 10-15 people they want to put in jail. Eighty inmates is optimal because Diesch doesn't have to add staff but he saves money on food because the per-meal cost goes down at that number.

State laws control who can occupy the vacant beds, Diesch said. Male and female prisoners have to be separated, and now gender identification has to figure into the equation as well. Juveniles have to be separated from older inmates, and felons are supposed to be kept away from people charged with misdemeanors.

The county could take inmates from other counties to fill the jail and charge $55 per day for the service, but, said Diesch, "I didn't build this jail to fill it." Diesch would have to add staff to cover more inmates, he said, and when the inmate population declined, he'd be forced to lay people off.

A native of Centerville, Winona comes to the Clinton Herald after writing for the Ottumwa Courier for two years.