MUSCATINE — Each week, the Muscatine County Jail receives new inmates from local arrests, federal prison, as well as Johnson and Clinton counties. On a typical day, Sheriff C.J. Ryan said the jail books more than nine inmates, and could receive nearly the same amount from other counties.
"In a fairly immediate fashion, we could take 20 people in our booking area," Ryan told the Muscatine County Board of Supervisors Monday. "It could take 24 hours a day just to clear out the booking area."
The jail, Ryan said, is holding more than 230 inmates as of this week. The maximum capacity is 255.
"We could go to 255 to be at capacity, but that's a number you can never really attain because you have to separate different individuals," Ryan said. "It's very full at this point."
When the new jail opened in 1996, Ryan said Muscatine County began to accept federal inmates. Johnson County started transporting inmates to Muscatine in 2010, and the jail began accepting inmates from Clinton County this year.
The revenue made from bringing in out-of-county inmates, Ryan said, has allowed Muscatine County to pay back the bond issued when it first opened the jail, and built a $9 million addition in 2011.
"The idea behind the holding of inmates for other entities was that the revenues generated would pay for the bonds that were issued, so that the jail construction was never a burden to the Muscatine County taxpayer," he said in an email.
To date, Ryan said revenues have been able to satisfy the bond payments, about $600,000 a year. Projected revenue for the current fiscal year, based on daily inmate populations, is more than $3.2 million.
The problem, however, is the rapid increase in inmates. In April 2016, on average, the jail held about 160 prisoners, and the number has been rising ever since, according to a report from jail staff.
Now holding more than 230 inmates, Ryan said the jail has been forced to open its dorm area, and it is now necessary to add more staff. Monday, the Board of Supervisors approved hiring seven full-time corrections officers and one part-time jail nurse, for more than $348,000.
With the additions, the jail will have 34 full-time officers, plus one full-time RN nurse and two part-time LPN nurses. The new staff will help manage the dorm area, which was previously closed for several years.
Adding employees, Ryan said, will also allow the jail to have two staff members working during each shift. Also, hiring another jail nurse will help staff keep up with issuing medical cards and performing other medical work.
With the high inmate population, Ryan said, the county was left with two choices.
"You can either leave dorm open and hire additional personnel, or close dorm," he said. "If you close the dorm, then you kick people out. So you tell Clinton, Johnson or the federal government to take the ball and go home because we don't have the room to do it."
Board of Supervisors member Matt Bonebrake said, with the rising population, Muscatine County should be prepared to turn away inmates in the future.
Ryan said, all of the counties expect their inmate populations to stabilize or increase in the coming year, so the jail might have to consider transferring inmates in the future.
For now, the Board of Supervisors approved hiring the eight new positions. Despite the increase in staff costs, the county projects $1.4 million in excess revenue this fiscal year.
"This is a classic business decision," Board Chair Jeff Sorensen said. "This is a positive to the county taxpayer, I see that. Those additional dollars have helped us in the past couple years."