Overcrowding at the local jail

The Clark County jail — officially, it’s the “Detention Center” — is overcrowded.

The facility has an official design capacity of 2,859 inmates, but the daily census now regularly tops 3,700. Two hundred of the least dangerous inmates are currently out on house arrest; 500 are sleeping on cots in the jail’s day room.

The county rents jail space from other jurisdictions wherever it can — including 70 beds at Lincoln County’s detention center in Pioche, 175 miles away.

With the county’s population continuing to grow, and with miraculous conversions of our resident thugs and miscreants into born-again members of the church choir still lagging, there’s no getting around the fact that more space is needed.

Now, the courts and police could help. The most important people to keep locked away are violent offenders and those most likely to return to stealing or destroying property. There’s little sense wasting jail space on those whose violations are strictly “mala prohibita” — bureaucratic offenses with no complaining witnesses, including low-level drug offenses. The Legislature could help here, too.

But in the meantime, more space for misdemeanor and non-violent offenders — those who require less security — is needed, soon.

County officials say the Molasky Group has a leg up over other bidders with its proposal to build a 200,000-square-foot, 1,038-bed, $128 million facility across Las Vegas Boulevard from Nellis Air Force Base.

The firm’s advantage? They already own the 37-acre parcel, meaning they can promise a completion date in less than two years.

Of all the proposals received, “This was the only one where someone controlled a piece of property and was ready to go,” says Assistant County Manager Elizabeth Quillin.

The problem? The county would have to pay $11.3 million per year to lease the facility — paying $113 million in rent over the next decade, at which point the county would have the option to buy the $128 million facility … for another $110 million.

And even that won’t really be enough. “Quite frankly, it’s going to be full when it opens,” reports Leroy Kirkegard, deputy chief of the Metropolitan Police Department’s detention services division.

The county really needs thousands more beds, Chief Kirkegard says.

But the new facility under discussion with the Molasky Group is limited to 1,000 beds because, “We have approved the staffing for only 250 beds” so far, admits Assistant County manager Quillin.

“Optimally, we would prefer to build it ourselves,” Ms. Quillin adds.

Well, then?

Locking up miscreants is a legitimate function of local government. State and federal courts, quite properly, step in from time to time and order that such prisoners cannot be held for excessive lengths of time before their cases are adjudicated, nor in inhumane, unsanitary or overcrowded conditions.

Former Sheriff Bill Young once proposed a “tent farm” of no-frills accommodations for low-level offenders and those awaiting their court dates, similar to that which (while hardly popular with the inmates) has led the people of Phoenix to keep returning Sheriff Joe Arpaio to office there for 15 years.

Apparently there were perceived problems with Sheriff Young’s proposed site, near the Las Vegas Wash.

If such a proposal can’t be gotten on track in a reasonable time, the County Commission should resolve when it next considers this matter to put the Molasky Group proposal before the voters, so they can determine if it makes fiscal sense.

One advantage of such a vote is that it will prompt a real public debate, with voters asking, “What are the alternatives”?

At which point, Sheriff Young’s tent camp should also get a fresh look.

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