It's been nearly 20 years since there's been a jail in Spink County, but a new state law has county officials wondering whether it's time to build another one.
There's no formal proposal. There might never be. But Sheriff Kevin Schurch is curious what it might cost to build a new jail and what the public might think of the idea.
Senate Bill 70, approved earlier this year by the Legislature, sparked county commissioners to ask Judge Tony Portra, who handles 5th Judicial Circuit cases in Spink County, to visit with them about the possible implications of the law. The measure was designed to ease the state's overcrowded prison population. Given that premise, Porta said he told the commission, it makes sense that a larger burden will likely fall on counties when it comes to handling offenders. It could mean, for instance, more days spent in county jails instead of state prison. But, he said, it's still too early to know what the actual effects will be.
Commissioners have only discussed the idea casually and are in no hurry to move ahead, said Vic Fischbach, Spink County state's attorney.
"It's going to be an uphill battle . . . It was just tossed around at some meetings," Schurch said.
Spink County built a jail in 1910, he said. But it was torn down in the 1990s because of concerns it didn't meet safety criteria for housing inmates, he said. Since then, the sheriff's office sends offenders to other county jails.
Most commonly, Schurch said, he takes inmates to the Faulk County Jail. Every other Tuesday, when there's court in Spink County, he drives to Faulkton to pick up the four or five inmates scheduled for hearings. Sometimes, he said, he has to haul them back. Sometimes not.
When the Faulk County Jail is full, Spink County inmates are taken to Beadle County. Worst-case scenario, Schurch said, he takes inmates to Lake Andes in Charles Mix County. That's a one-way trip of about 140 miles.
The drive from Redfield to Faulkton is about 40 miles. It's closer to 50 miles from Redfield to Huron.
Spink County pays a per-day rate for each inmate it ships out of county. Schurch said it's $60 for Faulk County and $80 for Beadle County. The per-day rate for juveniles in Beadle County is $180 and going up to $225, he said.
Those totals don't include travel costs incurred by the sheriff's office for driving back and forth, Schurch said.
Even considering those totals, it seems unlikely to Portra that Spink County would save money by building and operating a jail. But, he said, each hour a member of the sheriff's office is driving to Faulkton and back, for instance, is an hour that person isn't spending on patrol or doing other law enforcement duties.
Portra said that, on occasion, he thinks about there being no local jail when setting bond terms for somebody he sees in court in Spink County. It's never an overriding factor in his decision, he said, but, sometimes, he contemplates whether the person needs to be sent to an out-of-county jail to await his or her next hearing.
Schurch said he can book people accused of crimes who will be released on a personal recognizance bond in Redfield. But those who have to wait in jail for their first court hearing have to go elsewhere, he said.
One point Spink County residents might contemplate is whether they want their tax money used for housing inmates to remain in Spink or go elsewhere, he said.
Portra noted that usually a smaller county sends its inmates to a jail in a larger county. But Spink has more people and court cases than Faulk does, he said.
Fischbach noted the same thing. The bulk of inmates in the Faulk County Jail are from Spink County, he said. Were Spink to build a jail, it would be a blow to the Faulk County facility, he said.
By his estimation, the number of inmates and waiting time for people to serve their terms at the Brown County Jail have decreased in recent months, he said. That's on the heels of the Aberdeen facility being generally overcrowded for a number of years.
Ultimately, Fischbach said, county commissioners will have to make the call about the jail.
Schurch said that, if Spink County residents don't have the appetite to hire, say, a handful of new county employees, they probably won't want to pay for a jail, either. Faulk and the other counties do a good job caring for Spink County inmates, he said. But he's still interested in learning more about the potential of having a jail in Redfield.
"We're seeing how much support there actually is for it," he said. "It all comes at a price."