SIDNEY, Iowa — After more than 124 years, the Fremont County Jail is housing its final prisoners.
Voters in the southwest Iowa county voted overwhelmingly this week in support of a $5.5 million bond issue to pay for a new law enforcement center.
“This will be huge for us,” Fremont County Sheriff Kevin Aistrope said.
On Tuesday night, more than 72 percent of the votes cast were for the bond issue, with 854 “yes” votes compared with 327 “no” ballots. A little more than 20 percent of registered voters turned out for the special election.
Auditor Joan Kirk called turnout low but was pleased the bond issue passed on the first try.
“Glad to have it just the one time,” the elections official said. “The trend around the area is the county jails are getting so old they need an extreme update or get a new jail.”
Mills and Montgomery Counties are among a few in the region that have passed bond issues to replace old facilities.
The current Fremont County law enforcement center was built in 1889. The exterior foundation of the building features a row of hard bricks, but much of the rest is soft brick, the sheriff said, which led to problems with settling.
In his four years as sheriff, Aistrope said, the county has had to grind cell doors down to make them fit again.
“They got out of square,” he said. “The building's deteriorating.”
State inspectors often cite the jail for mixing sentenced and non-sentenced prisoners, and the building isn't handicapped accessible. Deputies or other staff have to carry handicapped prisoners and their wheelchairs up a flight of stairs, Aistrope said.
A lack of space for segregating sexes or age groups means the jail can't house female prisoners or juveniles. Because of that and overcrowding, Aistrope said, almost every day a deputy must spend a shift transporting prisoners to another county's jail.
“It will save so much transport time. We'll have deputies on patrol instead of transporting prisoners,” he said of getting a new facility.
And it will save money as well. Aistrope said county officials believe that the state was poised to close the old jail. A new holding facility would have been required and the number of prisoners to transport would have spiked.
In all, the holding facility plus transport would have cost $7 million over the next 20 years, compared to the $5.5 million for a new jail.
Aistrope commended a committee of residents that organized 21 informational meetings and two tours of the current jail before the vote.
“The people of Fremont County educated themselves on what was needed and why it was needed and made the right decision,” he said. “Give them credit for that.”