Dedicated beds set aside for inmates with mental health issues, an improved booking area and more maximum-security beds are among improvements architects believe would benefit the Dubuque County Jail.

The challenge is the square footage of the jail and how the existing space is utilized, according to John Cain, a principal and vice president of Venture Architects.

“A lot of these things have to do with just, there’s not enough space in the existing building,” Cain told county supervisors this week.

Cain and other architects and consultants met with the three supervisors to share findings from a study of improvements that could be implemented.

The older portion of the jail, located at 770 Iowa St., dates back to the 1970s. An addition opened in the early 2000s. The facility has a capacity of about 210 inmates.

Work to assess the jail’s needs and future inmate populations is ongoing, but the presentation offered supervisors an early look at projects on which they might want to focus in the future.

Consultants, hired at a cost of $50,000, don’t yet have a final list of recommendations, nor do they have an idea of what the associated costs might be. They hope to continue developing design options into September before hashing out those details.

Cain told the county supervisors that one issue with the current facility is the booking area, which spans two floors between the older and newer portions of the jail.

Since it is spread over two floors, the booking process requires a lot of unnecessary movement of inmates, Cain said. The booking room also is too small, as is the elevator.

Additionally, the booking area’s location is problematic because inmates and staff have to pass through it to get from one side of the jail to the other, Cain said.

“Inmates that are going to this part of the building to go to medical or any other purpose ... they have to actually pass through the booking area, so it’s very disruptive,” Cain said. “It’s probably one of the biggest concerns we have for the building.”

Another issue Cain noted was the design of the 1970s portion of the jail. Because of the linear design of the building, jail workers cannot see into cells unless they physically walk over to them.

The newer portion of the jail has a “podular” design that allows officers to see into housing units from a central location.

“This is a big concern that we have, where you’ve got podular on one side, linear on the other,” Cain said.

Other issues noted in the needs assessment were a lack of dedicated beds for inmates with special needs or mental health issues, not having enough beds for maximum-security inmates and a need to separate different functions of the medical unit into more than one room.

Rod Miller, president of the nonprofit Community Resource Services Inc., said the jail is staffed in such a way as to minimize risk. However, he noted some potential areas for improvement.

One issue he noted was that about half of the 156 beds in the newer portion of the jail are located in two large dormitories. Since that facility was constructed, however, the need to separate inmates has become more critical because of issues such as mental health problems or court proceedings.

“You’re doing what you need to do, and I think that has to do with the quality of the staff and the management,” Miller said. “But you’ve really been riding the line of operation capacity for the last couple of years.”

Kristofer Orth, an architect for Design Alliance, which according to the company’s website is now Farnsworth Group, also noted that the 1970s portion of the building uses manual locks, which creates the risk of inmates stealing keys.

The older building also does not have any Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible restrooms or cells, and its only sprinkler system is in the basement.

Supervisor Ann McDonough noted that county officials could have some options for addressing building needs. The newer portion of the jail has some vacant space that used to be used for juvenile services, and the facility was designed so an extra floor could be constructed.

“I think there’s some really fine, good options to look at in the assessment,” she said.

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