Building jail on a new site does not make sense


Speakout

The County Courthouse, Sheriff’s Office, and Jail have continually shared property on the courthouse square since at least the year 1904, the past 114 years. 

As sheriff of Brookings County, I am responsible for operating and maintaining the county jail efficiently and safely. 

The safety of the staff, inmates, and the public are always a high priority. There is currently a tunnel connecting the jail to the courthouse. The original reason this tunnel was constructed was for the simple reason of the safety, security, and efficiency of inmate movement from the jail to the courthouse for court hearings. 

The inmates do not have to be taken outside of the building for risk of escape and there are no concerns of having to move inmates in the outside elements during inclement weather. 

The Brookings County Courthouse only houses offices that are directly related to the court system. Therefore anyone entering the courthouse is there for business directly relating to court systems. The Sheriff’s Office is responsible for the security of the courthouse which does not just include court hearing security but also the security of all the offices in the building. 

With the Sheriff’s Office and jail located beside the courthouse, general walk-throughs by deputies and jail staff occur to maintain the security in the building as well as the courthouse employees having a quick response during emergency situations. A Sheriff,s Office deputy is assigned to duties at the courthouse and the jail. This deputy attends court hearings for security and safety and at times, when there is less activity at the courthouse, that deputy maintains other job duties at the jail in relation to court matters with the inmates in custody. 

There are five court service officers housed in the courthouse. These officers have the efficiency of being able to come next door to the jail and meet their probationers on a daily basis. Probationers not in custody meet their court service officer at the courthouse on a regular basis. 

There have been incidents where the probationer becomes out-of-control and the court service officers have needed to activate their alarm system which alerts the Sheriff’s Office and Jail. Assistance then arrives from the Sheriff’s Office and jail to take the probationer in to custody. 

The court service officers also require their probationers to perform random urine drug tests during meetings and walk the probationer to the jail for these tests. 

The test is then conducted and witnessed by jail staff. If there is any failed test, the probationer is simply held and moved to the booking room for processing. Again this is another form of safety being maintained. 

The Clerk of Courts Office is housed in the courthouse. There have been incidents where a person at their windows is upset over a case or payments due to the court. The person then becomes a disruption and their staff has needed to activate their alarm system for assistance. Again this alarm alerts Sheriff’s Office and jail staff who respond to take care of the disruption. The Clerk of Courts staff also works very closely with the Sheriffs Office in criminal and civil paperwork matters and sometimes even in last minute case filings where the clerks walk the papers over to the Sheriffs Office for service. 

These last-minute filings of the day are often in protection order matters which need to be served immediately as they are a high priority in maintaining safety for the victim. Before and after court hearings, inmate attorneys, family members, and court service officers have the efficiency of visiting inmates with only walking next door from the courthouse to the jail. Many times, an attorney wants to visit with an inmate before and after court in a secure setting. 

Research has shown there are not a lot of options available within the city limits of Brookings to build a Sheriff’s Office and jail off-site, meaning the Sheriff’s Office and jail would have to look at relocating outside the city limits. Depending on distance, we would lose the efficiency of the current working relationship with the courthouse offices. It would also increase our response time to security alarms at the courthouse and our general walk-throughs of the courthouse would lessen. 

If the Sheriff’s Office and jail were located off-site, a large concern would be the safety of the public, staff, and inmates in the transportation to and from the jail and courthouse. 

Depending on the court hearing caseloads, multiple transports may be needed to maintain security between male and female inmates as well as juveniles in custody. In every transport there is always a heightened sense of security concerns as the inmates are being moved outside of a secure setting. Court hearings requiring inmate attendance often are on a daily basis and with having multiple transports to keep separation of the types of inmates in custody adds to the chances of escape issues, inmates receiving accidental injuries in / out of vehicles, and chances of motor vehicle accidents. 

Historically in Brookings County, the Courthouse and Sheriff’s Office / Jail have always shared the same property. At this location, we are across the street from the City/County Government Center where we also provide security for this building and also for grand jury hearings. 

In conclusion, I believe by staying next to the courthouse with a jail expansion, will best serve the public and all entities involved in safety, security and efficiency matters.

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