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Jailhouse blues

Karen Woodmansee

Appeal Staff Writer

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal
ALL |

A proposed quarter-cent sales tax on infrastructure is still up in the air, but the need for a new jail for Lyon County is not.

Lyon County is under pressure from federal authorities to update the 1976-era jail in Yerington, or build a new one. It was expanded once, in 1990, and is still overcrowded and outdated.

The commission has postponed a decision to increase the sales tax by a quarter-cent to pay for a jail. They have voted on one occasion to build a new jail in Silver Springs or Stagecoach, but after county revenues nose-dived, changed that to an expansion of the current jail in Yerington.

A new jail is not exactly a new problem to Lyon County.

Lt. Douglas Brunson said when he came to Lyon County in 1995, he was told the county was on a five-year plan for a new jail.

The 52-bed jail averages 60 to 80 inmates per day, Brunson said, which is actually better than 10 years ago, when it averaged 80 to 85.

“Most were sentenced, which means by law they have to work,” he said. “Now we have 60 to 80 with almost no sentenced prisoners.”

Brunson said many judges now sentence offenders to probation, home confinement or community service, leaving the arrested but not convicted in the jails, many of whom have to be kept separate from one another.

So he’s hoping for not only more beds with a new or expanded jail, but more classified beds, i.e., enough separate locations so he can separate the inmates.

He said each inmate had to be housed with those who are similar in terms of the alleged offenses and history. Guards are responsible for each inmate’s safety, and separation is how they maintain order.

“If you have a smaller guy, say arrested for DUI for the first time, we can’t put them in with a big biker who has been arrested 15 times,” Brunson said.

Women are kept apart from the men, and sometimes have to be separated from each other. Sex offenders are kept together, but separate from all other inmates. Maximum security inmates, charged with violent crimes, are kept apart from those accused of nonviolent ones. Those with mental illnesses are kept apart, as are those taken into civil protective custody, like someone who has passed out drunk.

“You can’t put someone who hasn’t been charged with a crime in with someone who has,” he said. “So what we need is more classified beds.”

He would also like to see more holding cells so that inmates coming in can be separated if need be. The jail has two holding cells; Brunson would like to have five. Augmenting the holding cells are benches with handcuffs attached so that inmates can be restrained.

Brunson said he would also like to have a padded cell for mentally ill inmates.

“We have gotten people in who bang their heads against the walls,” he said.

The jail was built in a linear style, with each housing unit checked physically by a deputy on rounds, with no 24-hour supervision.

In a corner of that room is a table with a curtain drawn around it that serves as an exam room for when the county nurse/practitioner comes in on Thursdays, Page said.

In the women’s section, each 8-by-10-foot cell has two bunks and is connected by a dayroom. There is a television the inmates share. One shower off of the dayroom is used by all inmates in the section. A table bolted to the floor with eight stools attached sits in the center of the dayroom.

For the men, the dayroom is larger with more cells and showers, but the rest is the same. Except now some inmates sleep on cots in the dayroom.

Brunson said he would also like a few more multi-purpose rooms – the jail only has one. It is used for interviews with inmates, inmates’ consultation with their attorneys, video court appearances for the Walker River Court, and in a corner, with a curtain, is a medical exam bed.

“Medical gets top priority” for the room, Brunson said.

There is a library of sorts, two bookcases in a hall filled with books and encyclopedias. There is a visiting area, fingerprint and booking area, control area and staff offices, a laundry and a kitchen.

Brunson said the narrow laundry is a problem area because fire officials consider it a hazard because of obstructions in exiting the cramped room.

But the kitchen is the best part of the jail, he said, adding that he is the food manager.

“The health department loves it,” he said.

Inmates get cold cereal for breakfast, a bag lunch and a hot dinner, and special diets for health or religious reasons are available.

The outside yard is not often used, because it is visible from the street, Brunson said.

“They could get over that fence,” he said. “Or have someone throw drugs over.”

He also said kids playing in the park across the street used to harass the inmates, and sometimes the inmates would flash passing cars.

Staffing is a problem as well, with the jail needing 10 deputies, three sergeants, a lieutenant and four civilian control operators. Brunson said they needed four more deputies and one additional control operator.

County officials have said safety of the inmates and the jail staff as well as adherence to federal regulations requires the jail. The question is still how to pay for it and where it will go.

Many want to see the jail in Silver Springs, and Brunson said it would be preferable for staffing reasons and to cut the travel time, cost and distance. More than 80 percent of Lyon County’s residents live north of the Carson River.

“Transportation is a staff headache,” he said. “For more than four or five inmates, we need two deputies. This county is growing and growth means more crime.”

• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at kwoodmansee@nevadaappeal.com or 881-7351.