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Q&A about the Ada County Jail expansion project

With the Ada County Board of County Commissioners approving a $38-million expansion project for the Ada County Jail this week, we thought you might have some questions – so here’s a Q&A.

What is it?

Ada County is adding a new building (we call it a pod) on the east end of the jail at 7200 Barrister Drive in Boise. It will hold 294 jail beds, divided between three dorm-style areas and four more traditional jail housing areas, which will have two-person and four-person cells.

The new pod will also have a food storage warehouse, with freezers, refrigerators, and dry-good storage areas; loading docks; an expanded booking area for people being brought in to the jail;  and safer, more secure access to the Ada County Jail with a new road and jail entrance off N. Allambaugh Street.

When will it be completed?

Initial estimates are for another 6-to-7 months of additional design work and then about two years of construction, with an estimated completion by mid-to-late 2023.

Why is this happening now?

As anyone who has spent even a little time lately in Ada County knows, the exploding population has put a significant strain on our infrastructure over the last decade: traffic jams, relentless road construction, and long lines everywhere.

The Ada County Jail is no different.  We are maxed out on bed space. We can hold up to 1,116 inmates in our main jail building. Before the COVID-19 coronavirus hit, our inmate population was over 1,000 pretty much every day and trending up. We had more than a few days where we had to put cots on the floor of our dorms.

We are maxed out for bed space, we need more food storage space, and our inmate-staffed kitchen and laundry are at the absolute limit for what they can manage each day.

We also know the longer the wait, the more expensive construction materials become.

Getting this work done now will allow us to respond to relentless population growth – while saving Ada County money in the long run and preserving community safety.

Other than more beds, how does it make the jail safer?

One of the issues we have when our current jail gets really full is the lack of options to keep inmates separated into the safest groupings.

The way we keep the Ada County Jail safe and efficient for everybody is with our classification system. It is how we sort who goes where – who can safely be in a dorm setting, who must be in a more secure environment, which inmates can work, etc.

The more crowded our jail gets, the less flexibility we have to move inmates around if we have a safety or medical issue to deal with.

While the coronavirus has resulted in a dip to our daily jail population and our Health Services staff has done an incredible job to limit the spread of COVID-19, it does pose some major problems with inmate movement if we have to quarantine a dorm or cell area. Having more flexibility and room is going to be even more important as we move forward.

What does the $38 million cover?

That amount covers all the main construction of the new facility and remodeling some areas of the current jail, like the kitchen. There will be about $6 million in additional costs, covered by the county budget, that will pay for some furnishments, equipment, and the first lease payment for the loan. The estimated total is $44,455,018.

What about the IDOC inmates in the jail?  

You may have heard us talk about the high number of Idaho Department of Correction inmates in our facility. We took the IDOC to court in December in an attempt to reduce the number of inmates who have been sentenced to IDOC custody – or are being held on parole violations — but remain in the jail for days and weeks.

While that is still happening to a degree – just today, we have 74 inmates waiting for the IDOC to get them or waiting for a parole violation hearing — we’ve been working closely with IDOC on a solution.

We know the IDOC, dealing with overcrowding issues themselves, desperately needs beds for their inmates and more resources to help them manage their inmates when they are released back into our communities.

They’ve been making an effort to move large groups of inmates out of our jail as they clear space in their facilities in south Ada County. The IDOC removed 54 inmates from the jail on Sept. 30.

Realistically, we have to proceed knowing there will be some kind of IDOC presence at our jail in the years to come. Removing IDOC inmates who spend weeks and months in our jail might provide temporary relief, but doesn’t solve our community growth issues.