Woodbury County's minimum security facility may be in jeopardy - KTIV News 4 Sioux City IA: News, Weather and Sports

Woodbury County's minimum security facility may be in jeopardy

Officials said Prairie Hills' building is more than 75 years old. Officials said Prairie Hills' building is more than 75 years old.
This is the day room inside Prairie Hills. This is the day room inside Prairie Hills.

As Woodbury County leaders delve into the 2015's fiscal year budget, the fate of the county's minimum security facility is at stake.

The Sheriff's Department went before the board of supervisors Tuesday to discuss where they're at with their budget.

Chairman of the Board George Boykin brought up the idea of closing Prairie Hills, a facility that houses about 30 inmates at a time, and all of the inmates there are considered low risk.

"I think that we can shut it down and save money. I know that we can do that because we've had, I've had experience in that with other public bodies," Boykin said.

But, Sheriff Dave Drew said the possibility of closing Prairie Hills was brought up out of the blue and it's not a good idea for the county.

Drew said, "It doesn't save money. What was funny about that whole thing was I sat there and listened to it, and never did I get one phone call, not one person in the sheriff's office got one phone to call to ask, 'Should we close Prairie Hills? What are the factors to close it or keep it open?'"

And, that question, of whether or not to keep it open, involves many factors.

Prairie Hills is used for a number of reasons like handling overflow from the Woodbury County jail.

"It alleviates a lot of pressure with the main jail downtown," Sergeant Al Shinkunas, with the Woodbury County Sheriff's Office Jail Division, said.

The minimum security facility also takes in work release inmates, and runs the weekender program, which Sgt. Shinkunas said is for people serving a two-day sentence for drunk driving.

"The main jail downtown wouldn't have room or the man power to facilitate that," Sgt. Shinkunas said.

So, what would happen if this building was closed?

"It's hard to classify dividing up people with the room they have at the main jail. It could cause problems, yes," Sgt. Shinkunas said.

Men serving time for traffic violations, serious misdemeanors, and below would no longer have a minimum security facility to go to in Woodbury County. Closing Prairie Hills could also impact Jackson Recovery Centers Phoenix Program.

"The Phoenix Program is intended for men who have both addiction as well as criminal thinking and criminal actions. It's a key component to being out at Prairie Hills," Clinical Services Vice President at Jackson Recovery Centers Amy Bloch said.

Officials said Prairie Hills' building is more than 75 years old and costs about $140,000 in operational costs each year, but if it's shut down, the Phoenix Program will be over.

"We would not be able to continue this program here in our community," Bloch said.

And, that could impact dozens of people. But, that's not all that would be in jeopardy.

"If they closed this place down, where are the meals going to be prepared?" Sgt. Shinkunas asked.

Sgt. Shinkunas said all of the meals for the jails are prepared in the kitchen at Prairie Hills. The county would have to find a new place to house the food contractor or hire a new one altogether.

"The cost I would almost surely bet would triple as far as per meal per day," Sgt. Shinkunas said.

And, if the building is shut down, there's no guarantee it will be available if they need it in the future.

"It's going to be difficult for us to go back to the state and ask them to do an adjustment, so that we can re-open it," Woodbury County Supervisor George Boykin said.

"We'll run the numbers and we'll make the best educated guess we can and we're going to have to live with that," Woodbury County Supervisor Larry Clausen said.

For now Prairie Hills will continue to operate as usual, but those who work there want the board to take in to consideration the amount of money it would cost to build a new facility compared to keeping the current one open.

Along with housing inmates, being involved with the Phoenix Program, and cooking food for the county's jails, the building has several other uses too.

The Woodbury County Sheriff's Office said the Iowa State Patrol, FBI, U.S. Marshals Service, police department, and other surrounding agencies utilize it for its classroom space and gym, as well as its shooting range and K-9 training area outside.

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