DES MOINES, Iowa — Metro communities in Polk County continue to grow rapidly, but county leaders are concerned over the growth in a particular area: the jail.
“Unfortunately we don’t have the option to put up a no vacancy sign. Inmates keep coming and we have to make arrangements to take care of them,” said Polk County Sheriff Kevin Schneider as he addressed the Polk County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
To help the Polk County Jail keep up, the Polk County Board of Supervisors approved $1.1 million to hire 15 additional staffers. This will allow the jail to open up an existing wing with 32 beds to separate disruptive inmates unfit for the general prison population. Polk County Supervisor Angela Connolly said, “Let`s face it there are a lot more violent crimes happening in our community and we have to isolate those folks and that is what this 32 bed facility will do. It will put them in the isolation area so it will not only protect folks in the jail but it will protect our staff.”
The jail status report from Monday showed an inmate population of 1,162 and Schneider says it has been been wearing his overworked staff thin. “We definitely have put a lot of overtime in and had folks putting in OT because of staff shortages. A lot of people go into that business and they find out it is not for them. It`s a tough job and I admire the people that do it,” said Schneider.
The vote allows some breathing room for the jail to house more inmates, but Schneider said that isn’t the end goal. “Even though we still have an incarceration rate that keeps growing, we also are looking at many different diversion programs to try and get folks that should be out of jail, out of jail and on the right path,” he said. Supervisor Tom Hockensmith agrees. He said, “Remember, it costs millions to incarcerate folks and hold them in our prisons that suffer from mental illness and drug addiction.”
It’s a unanimous vote that gives Sheriff Schneider confidence in the jail’s ability to protect and serve on many levels. He said, “It`s a big investment, but we have an obligation to the citizens of Polk County and the inmates to try and run a safe facility.”
Schneider says they will hire the 15 staffers as soon as possible. A number of the applicants are currently in the testing stage.