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Ada County Jail expansion hits the ballots

A hand holding a pen filling out a voting ballot.
Jens Alfke

The Ada County Jail cannot keep up with the demand to supply beds and meals to over 1,000 inmates. A bond is set to hit the ballots in November, calling for a $49 million expansion to the Ada County Jail. The bond requires a supermajority to pass, meaning two-thirds of voters must be in favor.

In the last twenty years, the county’s population has increased by over 200,000 people. The last expansion of the jail happened two decades ago, however the jail still runs off the major expansion that was completed in 1995.

The Ada County commissioners voted unanimously to approve the bond and put it on voter’s ballots this election year.

The county has exhausted the last bond from 1993, which contributed to the 1995 expansion. However, with a large population increase, the jail finds itself requesting another necessary bond to carry themselves to the targeted year of 2040.

Ada County Sheriff Matt Clifford has been working to get the word out about the expansion to ease voter concerns and ensure inmate-staff safety within the jail’s walls.

“The more people we have that sleep on the floor, the more acts of violence we have inmate on inmate and inmate on deputy,” Clifford says. “So the safety and security of the jail is the risk we run by not getting those people up off the floor and being able to manage our population in a little better way.”

As of right now, 87% of inmates are in on felonies and the remaining 13% are in on misdemeanors. However, the jail’s programs have helped limit the population of misdemeanant inmates living in jail.

The jail currently has 1,116 beds, totaling from general population, medium custody and max security, amongst other holding areas. That doesn’t include the 34 “boats,” or beds placed on the floor to accommodate the overflow of inmates.

There are programs currently in place to ensure inmates don’t extend their time in a cell, however, it has become nearly impossible to meet the jail’s population and ensure proper sleeping and feeding needs.

“One of the things that we saw for people that didn't support the bond was ‘stop locking people up for marijuana possession and housing them in your jail, stop housing shoplifters in your jail’ and I'm here to tell you that those people don't exist in our jail,” Clifford says. “We now have programs that I'll go over that identify those people to get them out of our jail so that they are not taking up space, and they make room for this percentage.”

The expansion, if passed by voters, would add 61,000 square feet, about a 45 % increase to the existing building and includes updating booking, kitchen, laundry, housing and transport areas.

If passed, the average Ada County homeowner would pay $3.60 per $100,000 of taxable assessed value.

Election day is on Tuesday, Nov. 7. Polls are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Amanda Niess was a newsroom assistant through February of 2024.

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