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Survey: Pierce jail outdated, inadequate

ELLSWORTH -- A recent building summary of the Pierce County Courthouse has confirmed what those who work or visit have known all along: security, accessibility are lacking.

"Among many physical and operational problems with the facility, the most severe and immediate issues revolve around space needs, efficient operations, accessibility and security," representatives of KKE Architects said.

The architectural firm, specializing in interior design and architectural planning, praised the complex for being attractive and well-maintained for being over 100 years old. At the same time, it stated, "Forty years growth in county population and increased demand for services have resulted in major deficiencies, most of which can't be feasibly accommodated or corrected within the existing buildings."

It saved some of its harshest opinions for the Pierce County Jail, which turned 43 years old this year. Among the notables:

• The 29-bed facility is outdated, resulting in transporting and housing prisoners to nearby jails in Dunn and Pepin counties. Sheriff Nancy Hove estimated boarding tallied $500,000 this past year.

• Those who work in jail/dispatch are spread too thin due to supervising the jail and handling phone calls. This compromises the efficiency, safety and security for the county. The number of calls, for example, increased from 15,800 in 1997 to 21,650 in 2007.

• Sheriff's personnel escorting prisoners to and from court by means of the public stairs poses a threat.

• Electrical service isn't adequate, the air handlers have outlived their useful life and the shower floors leak into the electronics room.

• An insufficient number of intake holding rooms make it difficult to evaluate new offenders prior to transporting or placing in a housing area.

• The jail has no space for correctional programs, whether religious or educational or any other which could curb recidivism.

One way to the address these problems is to create a Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. The idea was advanced by Circuit Court Judge Joseph Boles, who has seen it La Crosse and Eau Claire counties.

"The basic idea is to get all the key players together of the criminal justice system at the same table and look at all the aspects -- protection of the public, enforcing the law, fairness to the defendant, etc., and see what ideas work and what doesn't," the judge said

A new jail would eliminate more of these concerns, but Hove, who started her second term as sheriff earlier this month, knows that isn't happening in today's economic climate.

"A building isn't even being discussed," she said. "We're going have to do more with less."

Jason Schulte

Jason Schulte is a reporter for the New Richmond News since February 2015. Prior to that he spent eight years at the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth. His duties with the News will include covering news out of Hammond and Roberts along with action from St. Croix County court system. He lives in Roberts. 

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