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Lee Co. Jail Nearing Capacity

Lee County could be forced to expand its jail earlier than anticipated.

A major expansion and renovation of the Lee County Correctional Center wrapped up in mid-2010.

The roughly $6-million dollar project pushed the current capacity of the facility to 92 inmates.

It also improved security and made it easier for correctional officers to oversee more inmates.

Another aspect of the expansion/renovation put the infrastructure (water, electric) in place to allow the jail to eventually be expanded to hold up to 144 inmates.

That would be accomplished by the addition of multiple upper-level cell blocks.

The expansion/renovation resulted from a feasibility study about the future of the facility.

Sheriff Jim Sholl says capacity has become an issue much sooner than that study predicted.  He says as of Tuesday morning, more than 80 inmates were being held.

He says the primary reason is a spike in the female inmate population.

“Iowa law requires sight and sound separation for males/females,” says Sholl, “so if we have to use another cell block that is designated for males, whether it has 6 beds or 12 beds, if you put one female in that block, you have tied up every bed except for other females.”

Sholl says the current female capacity is 12.  He says as of Tuesday morning, 15 females were being housed at the Lee County Correctional Center.

Sholl says this is not unique to Lee County as he says jails across Iowa are seeing spikes in female population.

He says, locally, the spike can be linked to arrests for methamphetamine and other drugs.

Sholl says inmates must also be separated by the degree and nature of their crimes and by potential mental health issues.

He says that further restricts capacity.

Sholl says the county is discussing expansion options with the firm that oversaw the renovation of the jail.

He says the cost of the expansion was not included in the original $6-million price tag.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.