Proposed upgrades to Johnson County Jail could require evacuation of inmates


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The Johnson County Jail has the possibility of soon moving out of the past and into the modern era, and these changes could mean some adjustments when it comes to housing inmates.

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors is considering overhauling the jail’s electrical systems, which have not been upgraded since they were installed in 1981.

While the electronic systems are under repair, parts of the jail will be unusable, and the supervisors contemplate a full clearing.

If cleared, those inmates would be transported 36 miles to the Muscatine County Jail.

Dean Naylor, the captain of the Muscatine County Jail, said logistically, moving whole populations of inmates together is not easy, and it depends on a lot of factors including numbers, sex, custody levels, medical issues, and existing conflicts with other inmates.

But Naylor said, nevertheless, they would work with Johnson County to find a solution.

“We’re here to accommodate and help our sister county out,” he said.

Naylor said he also doesn’t anticipate space being an issue, because in 2011 Muscatine underwent an expansion from 151 beds to 255 and regularly takes inmate overflow from the Johnson County Jail.

According to the Johnson County Jail roster, out of the county’s total 118 inmates, 57 are housed in the county, and  the remaining 61 are housed at the Muscatine jail.

This is because of space issues at the Johnson County Jail, which was originally built for 46, but is double bunked well past that to the 57 inmates.

In total, the project would include replacing the old control system of push buttons and electronic relays with a more modern touch screen system, county facilities manager Eldon Slaughter said.
The upgrade will also replace the cameras, sound alarms, fire alarms, electronic locks, and motors for the sliding doors.

“Think of equipment in your own world that’s 30 years old,” said David Wagner, the captain of the Johnson County Jail. “If something is 30 years old and it breaks, parts may not be as available.”

The supervisors will hold a public meeting on Thursday to discuss and vote on the upgrades. If they approve the plans, the bids will go out that day with a deadline of Oct. 28 and a tentative construction start date of Jan. 2.

Although nothing is certain, the engineer’s estimate is that the project will cost about $1.2 million, Slaughter said.

In addition to the electronic upgrades, the supervisors also plan to set aside around $250,000 for general repairs, which Slaughter said will go first toward fixing one of the jail’s original elevators.

Any remaining money would go towards “if needed” repairs, such as new toilets, piping, flooring, and walls.

Slaughter said most of the repairs the jail has are due to simple wear and tear experienced over 30 years of use.

Other aging infrastructure being eyed for repairs are the jail’s roof and original generator, with estimates at around $250,000 and $750,000, respectively.

However, Slaughter said, these repairs are long-term and have not yet been budgeted, and would most likely not take place for a year or two.

“It all boils down to age; nothing lasts forever,” he said.

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