Jail dealing with high number of inmates

Published 6:48 pm Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Detention deputies and staff at the Mower County Jail and Justice Center are working to cope with a growing jail population.

That was according to Mower County Sheriff Steve Sandvik as he addressed the Mower County Board of Commissioners Tuesday morning.

Currently, the daily population within the jail is sitting at 60, above the recommended 45-50 that would make it easier for staff to isolate new prisoners according to COVID-19 protocols.

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To help cope with these numbers law enforcement, working with probation officers, are taking close looks at who they are arresting, including not arresting people with, “misdemeanor warrants,” Sandvik said.

Law Enforcement is also not following through on apprehension orders for lower level incidents for the time being.

“We’re not making that an automatic arrest,” Sandvik said. “We’re doing that by report.”

Many of these offenses have to do with addiction and mental health issues and Sandvik said he hopes law enforcement and government entities will look closely at this as an option going forward.

“I would like to see this grow,” he told the board. “People with mental health and addiction issues …  jail is not going to cure them. It costs a ton of money, but we’re operating in the system we have.”

Something else Sandvik talked about that he finds incredibly concerning is the implementation of a state law passed during the last session of the legislature concerning how law enforcement deals with lethal force situations.

Sandvik said that extra steps will be required before lethal force will need to be applied, but Sandvik and other members of law enforcement find it concerning because very few even knew this was law until 11 days before it went into effect on March 1.

“There’s no time to train,” Sandvik said. “Nobody knew about it.”

It’s something that Sandvik and law enforcement intend to continue to look closely at this law in the coming days and weeks to hopefully find some sort of balance and clarification on what the law means.

Along the length of the Shooting Star Trail are prairie flowers and grasses, a nice contrast from the surrounding fields. Herald file photo

Shooting Star Trail

The board approved unanimously to endorse Mower County Public Works Director Mike Hanson’s upcoming efforts in requesting between $1.4 and $1.5 million in bonding money from the state to complete a link-up of the Shooting Star Trail and Iowa’s Wapsi-Great Western line at the border.

In July of 2019, the board acknowledged and supported the extension south of the Shooting Star, which currently stretches from Austin to LeRoy along Highway 56. However, everything shut down when the COVID-19 pandemic took over.

“Now we’re coming around and we’re in a new session (of the legislature),” Hanson said. “A group of individuals, including myself and Administrator (Trish) Harren, Iowa people, Minnesota people have Zoomed a couple times.”

The money would be used for the trail itself, but not right-of-way land acquisition, though Hanson said he would be open to including that within the bonding request.

Polly Glynn asked how much a right-of-way acquisition would cost and Hanson answered that the minimum amount would be around $40,000 for four acres, maybe more depending on extra parcels that may need to be purchased.

Traditionally, money has come from the county to acquire those lands.

“We have expended similar amounts of money in the past throughout the history of the Shooting Star Trail,” Hanson said.

Talks with landowners have only just begun, but Hanson said, “We’ll have an informational meeting to try and pull the public into it. Hopefully we can get this resolved and get this link done.”