Because jail population numbers are near the threshold capacity of 234, there is cause for concern at our Law Enforcement Center in Woodbury County. Some violent inmates have assaulted the police, some are entangled in substance abuse, others are in need of mental health treatment. The correctional officers and nurses who work in the facility are behind the scenes and on the front line. Like our police officers, they play an integral and often heroic role in keeping us safe.
Understandably, taxpayers have no desire to pay for a new jail. For elected officials it is important to consider how to not only cost-effectively expand facilities we have, but also how to minimize the jail population when programs are more effective.
Support exists from the Board of Supervisors, the sheriff’s office and from many in the court system here in Woodbury County for a program known as “24/7.” This innovative criminal-justice concept is based on a program that began in South Dakota in 2004.
It works like this: Instead of creating overcrowding through incarceration, under 24/7 a non-violent, alcohol-related offender (OWI) reports twice a day, separated by 12 hours, and actually pays $4 per day to cover the costs of taking a breathalyzer test and proving sobriety. Alcohol testing is always required and random tests for other drugs are administered. Failure results in immediate sanctions from the court.
According to the Woodbury County sheriff's office and jail staff, 25 to 35 such alcohol-related offenders are housed at the county jail on any given day.
The results of 24/7 in other states are clear. A RAND study conducted on South Dakota’s 24/7 Sobriety Program showed over 99 percent of tests administered were clean and evidenced a 12 percent reduction in long-term recidivism. Reduced recidivism ranged between 40 and 70 percent in Montana and 60 percent in South Dakota. The end to the “revolving door” makes sense. If one is able to prove sobriety week after week, especially if coupled with substance treatment help, the offender proves that a life of sobriety is possible.
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Sheriff Dave Drew has long been an advocate after having read peer-reviewed studies and visiting Sioux Falls where the recidivism rate drastically fell through this personal responsibility approach. This is not a mandatory program because the judge must approve who participates and would likely be a best fit for the program.
A bill under consideration in the Legislature, Senate File 2190, would create a pilot program in the state of Iowa that would allow counties to request to participate in 24/7. Each county's participation would allow for the sentencing option to include this condition of probation. Participation in the pilot is determined by the Department of Public Safety in collaboration with the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau.
Last night, the Woodbury County board took action to move the clerk of courts from the Law Enforcement Center to the courthouse in the current treasurer’s office (the treasurer’s office will go to Trosper Hoyt). All of this is after months of study and conversation about consolidating more efficiently. After these moves are complete, 24/7 could be housed in the former clerk of courts space in the LEC. Then, if someone in Woodbury County failed a 24/7 test, instead of having to call transport at an off-site location, that individual would go directly up to the jail facility in the same building where the testing is taking place.
Creative approaches like 24/7 save money for taxpayers. We have taken steps to stop throwing money away at a dilapidated Prairie Hills where work release and weekend programs are currently housed. We are studying whether for just under $1.2 million (ironically, the same cost in utilities and maintenance that Prairie Hills will take in the next decade) we can expand the LEC and move such diversionary programs from Prairie Hills to there.
The final tool Woodbury County stands to be greatly benefited by is SF 2190 to allow us to move forward with 24/7.
On Tuesday, the Iowa Senate passed SF 2190 on a 36-12 vote; the bill now rests in the House. Woodbury County leaders urge the House to pass the bill because we believe it integral to accomplishing several goals: a “personal responsibility” based model for sobriety which can transform lives; a cost-effective way to continue dealing with the jail population; and the ultimate goal of making our community safer from alcohol- and drug-related abuse.
Jeremy Taylor is chairman of the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors.