Western Nebraska Observer - Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First

By Daniel Thompson
Editor 

Sheriff Harry Gillway contemplates possibility of new jail

 

Daniel Thompson

The condition of the Kimball County Jail leave the Sheriff's Office to wonder how much longer it will be able to handle inmates.

The Kimball County Jail, located in the courthouse, is facing the cost of much needed repairs to its plumbing system.

According to Kimball County Jail Administrator Linda Williams, the system which was installed in the 1920s has worn down with time and will need to be partially reconstructed.

"All the plumbing here is really showing its stress. There's a lot of rotten out places," Williams said.

The primary concern is with the pipes connected to the shower in the jail which over the past few months have started to leak down into other parts of the courthouse, raising fears that it could potentially cause damage to essential courthouse equipment.

"We're really concerned. We're always having trouble with hot water versus cold water. It's just really concerning that if we have pipes that aren't really in good shape that they'll flood the courthouse below," Williams said.

Another problem facing the system, a fix which will cost the county an estimated $15,000 to $20,000, is that with the old system it is difficult to surmise exactly where the leaks are coming from.

"A lot of times when you get leaks in this building, you might get a leak in one spot but it could be from a problem in a different area. We have some problems from the roof when they re-tarred it. Our kitchen flooded and the problem was we had drips but the flood water was coming from out in the hallway and following the pipes and coming down," Williams said.

The need for the reconstruction of the shower system stems from years of maintenance issues that have been addressed through temporary fixes, according to Kimball County Sheriff Harry Gillway.

"We've done maintenance on it and band-aids over the past few years. It's a matter of now the band-aid's not working quite as well. Things are getting peeled. The rust has gotten to be too much so we really need to upgrade the shower facility," Gillway said.

Though getting the shower system fixed will certainly put the jail back into good shape, Gillway believes that it is still a temporary fix to the much greater problem plaguing the local jail.

"It is a temporary thing still. We know that the way things are going that we can not keep putting more and more money into an old jail. Eventually, we will have to build a new jail. We're kind of waiting to see what federal grants come up, Department of Justice grants, and they do come up periodically as crime usually increased they realize that the need is there to put some more money back into the system for corrections," Gillway said.

Though maintenance is a big issue for the jail, the sheriff's office is also being faced with the issue of overcrowding which is not only affecting counties such as Kimball and Cheyenne but also the state facilities.

"When you go back and see how much jail populations are exploding, the jail population and prison population in this state is terrible. We need to stop and really think about how we can either reduce the crime rate and reduce the population in jails," Gillway said.

During the upcoming repairs, inmates will also have to be housed in other facilities which comes at great cost to the county with the sheriff's office paying approximately $160 a day to keep inmates there.

"We'll probably send them to Scottsbluff. However, the long term ones that we have that have been sentenced, we may save some money by taking them to Lexington or North Platte. Which will maybe save us $10 a day. $10 a day is $10 a day. We've done that before," Gillway said.

Before the recent overcrowding, the local jail could send inmates to Cheyenne County under a previous agreement of swapping male and female inmates, due to the fact that the Kimball facility has all female dispatchers which can guard both male and female inmates, according to state statute, whereas the Cheyenne County facility can't.

"Now, when they get a female or we get a female, they're usually shipped to Scottsbluff. So far that agreement is kind of on hold, but we're not hiring males because we're hoping to go back to that some day," Williams said.

However, Gillway is less optimistic about the possibility of going back to the previous arrangement with Cheyenne County, believing that there will be a lull in the amount of inmates that are being housed in each facility.

"I don't see it going back, quite frankly. With the rate of crime and arrests, I honestly don't see us losing enough population in my jail and Sheriff Jensen's jail to house females here and him house our males. It's rather a desperate situation," Gillway said.

The problem of overcrowding is also starting to get worse at the county level with inmates beginning to be sentenced to the county jail for longer periods of time, according to Gillway.

"Right now, I know that they're struggling in Lincoln and the state penitentiary, because now we have our district court judge actually increasing time in our county jail. It just recently happened. This was the first time that i ever know of where we have a felony conviction that actually gets a year to 15 months in county time. That's a long time," Gillway said.

With the current issues facing the jail and the lack of any sign that things will calm down any time soon, Gillway has started to consider the possibility of trying to get a new jail facility built in Kimball.

"Jail Standards said that they would come out and do an assessment for us for the commissioners so they can see the numbers as well as the need for a new jail. All I have to do is formally ask them, and they're going to come out and do it," Gillway said.

He also states that Kimball County could look at other counties that have built jails recently and use the same process in order to ensure that the new jail would be paid off in a timely fashion.

"There are other offices in this state that have built jails with bond issue and had their bonds paid off months to years in advance. One of them is Hitchcock County in Nebraska. They got a grant, a bond, and the sheriff started taking in inmates from other counties and even federal inmates. He had his jail paid off in no time. He didn't build a big facility, but he built one that met his needs and a little more," Gillway said.

A new facility would also alleviate some of the potential liability issues that abound in old jails such as the one in Kimball.

"Jails, especially older jails, have a very high potential for liability to the county. You have somebody back there, and if you don't watch them or even if you do watch them and they go back there and hurt themselves or trip and fall in the shower and get seriously injured or die, if they die, there's a grand jury on it, and quite frankly, those family members that are left behind can and probably will sue the county," Gillway said.

Though most residents would think that smaller facilities would be immune to such ailments, Williams states that similar issues have arisen in the past.

"I had one young man, we put him in there and stripped him down, and he peeled the paint off the wall and tried to cut his wrist with it. No matter how much you think you're protecting them and us, they will find a way some times to do it. We found him first before he could do any substantial harm," Williams said.

A new facility along with staying strict to codes and regulations would also help Kimball County avoid legal troubles that have been faced by other county facilities, most notably Dodge County where the jail had to be closed because of lawsuits against it.

"This was a fairly good, modern facility. I have taken prisoners in there in the past. Not only was the county sued for several million dollars, but the jail administrator was personally sued for, I believe, around $70,000 that he had to take out of his pocket. Dodge County closed their jail almost immediately. Now it's costing them $100,000 to house their prisoners in Saunders County," Gillway said.

Williams states that she has seen cases where lawsuits have even bankrupted the county the jail was situated in.

"There have been many cases of smaller communities like ours that get sued and have absolutely gone bankrupted because they lost a lawsuit in court. You can bankrupt a county in a real big hurry over a legal lawsuit. It's happened before," Williams said.

According to Gillway, after an assessment is made by Jail Standards, in order to get the new facility put into development, the issue would have to come before voters.

"For bond issue, you have to put it on the ballot to make sure that the voters want it. Just because we see the need in a new facility. If the voters don't see the need or see the potential for liability, it could fail in a heartbeat," Gillway said.

However, Gillway sees it as a need that needs to be addressed by the county in the future not only because of the inconveniences of having to constantly repair pipes and keeping up with maintenance needs, but also simply for the safety of the inmates, the staff and the community as a whole.

"All of this, first and foremost, is for the safety and security of everybody," Gillway said.

 

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