More women inmates cause jail to expand again

It's an issue the Lee County Iowa Board of Supervisors never thought they'd have to face so soon.

Just a couple of years after completing an expansion at the county jail, they've voted to expand yet again.

The expansion is due to an increase of inmates, but the type of inmate that is increasing the daily population will surprise you.

Since January of this year, the number of women inmates has either been at capacity or even over the number the jail was designed to house.

When that number goes over the capacity of the pod they're housed in, that creates a problem for the sheriff, the jail and the staff.

"That's correct. Once we have to house females in another cellblock that's not designed for females, once you put one female in that block it effectively takes the entire block. Jail code requires we keep sight and sound separation between male and female, so we can't put anyone else in that block except another female," Sheriff Jim Sholl said.

So to come up with a solution, the Lee County Board of Supervisors approved an expansion of two of the cell blocks at the jail. One cell block houses women and that capacity will go from the current 14 all the way up to 34. The other expansion will be in one of the men's cell blocks and that will add eight beds to that cellblock.

"When the original plans were built, we incorporated what I call a loft or a mezzanine so we could do future expansion as needed, so all of the infrastructure for the new building is in place and we just need to construct the cells. Good planning on the parts of those who designed the original jail," supervisor Janet Fife-LaFrenz said.

The sheriff said it will cost $455,000 for the project. He also said one of the big reasons why there are more women in jail is because many of them are being charged as part of a meth cooking conspiracy, where the women buy the pills for the meth cook and when there's an arrest the women go to jail as well. There's been only a couple of days since January first where the jail hasn't been at capacity for female inmates.

Right now, the jail has a total capacity of 92 and once this new expansion project is completed, it will increase to 120.

Work is expected to begin next spring.