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Idaho county adds 15 beds to lawsuit-plagued jail

Canyon County is adding 15 new beds to its jail and creating space for inmates to meet privately with attorneys, the latest effort to improve the facility following a lawsuit alleging prisoners were subjected to inhumane conditions because of chronic overcrowding.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit in 2009, agreed with jail officials that the changes are just a temporary solution made necessary because efforts to build a new jail aren’t proceeding quickly.

Voters in the southwestern Idaho county have repeatedly rejected a new facility and 26 acres once slated for a new jail are being sold.

Following the lawsuit, the county reached an agreement with the ACLU that imposed a cap on the number of inmates at the facility and required structural improvements.

Sheriff’s Capt. Daren Ward called this latest step a “tiny Band-Aid” but pointed out it will save taxpayers a little money because current space limitations have forced the county to move some inmates to separate facilities in other counties, which cost about $12,000 last month.

By contrast, the new beds will cost $4,000 and be accommodated by rearranging the existing women’s and protective custody units rather than making structural modifications to the existing, 22-year-old lockup.

To address the attorney-client privacy issue, Sheriff Kieran Donahue has equipped new rooms in a visitation area to ensure inmates’ ability to speak frankly about their cases and eliminate shifting prisoners who are potential security risks to less-secure areas of the jail to meet with their lawyers.

Some of those prisoners require belly chains and heavy restraints.

ACLU spokesman Leo Morales called the new meeting rooms a step in the right direction.

“Attorney-client privilege is so important, not just in Canyon County, but throughout the state.” Morales said.

He added, however, that capacity and privacy issues could be addressed by building a new jail.

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