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Coeur d’Alene seek to build new jail

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PLUMMER, Idaho – When the Coeur d’Alene tribal council and Kootenai County commissioners met in January, one topic of discussion was public safety and how to mitigate the ongoing problem of inadequate correctional facilities.

Quanah Spencer, an enrolled Yakama, is legislative director for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. “It was a really good meeting. We anticipated going about an hour but it turned into a four-hour hearing with a wide range of issues discussed. The dialogue was amazing and they were able to clear up a number of matters. They also talked about long-term projects, needs in the next three to five years where the two groups could work together to make the region a better place. One of the areas was public safety,” he commented.

As there is no jail on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation, inmates are sent elsewhere. The northern part of the reservation is in Kootenai County, whose jail is so overcrowded that some prisoners also have to be transported to other facilities.

The cost of transporting prisoners and paying for their incarceration is very high. The tribe’s police department is currently housed in a HUD building built many years ago and is in need of better facilities. A correctional facility seemed to provide answers to both problems.

A relationship between the tribal and county law enforcement agencies already exists: the tribal police department is already cross-deputized with the county sheriff’s department. The tribal police chief is a former employee of that department.

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“We reached an agreement with Kootenai County that the Coeur d’Alene Tribe would submit an appropriations request to Senator [Mike] Crapo, Senator [Larry] Craig, and Congressman Mike Simpson,” Spencer said. That request was to come from Spencer’s legislative office and, he reported, “That was completed and submitted about the middle of February. We got letters of support from the director of Idaho Department of Corrections, the sheriff’s offices in Kootenai and Latah counties, the Coeur d’Alene police chief and county commissioners from Kootenai County.

“The appropriations request was for $25 million. We feel this should take priority within the next appropriation process. I believe we should know something by early August on whether we will get the appropriation,” Spencer said.

The design calls for 200 beds and will be constructed on tribal trust land which the tribe will donate to that effort. A couple of sites are being considered, but no decision will be reached until access and environmental concerns are mitigated. Construction will likely take about a year.

The facility will take in inmates from overcrowded jurisdictions who have already gone through the trial process and been sentenced. This will cut down the costs of transporting them to hearings and trials. “It’s going to be as professionally run as possible,” Spencer noted. “We’re hoping to work together with the federal Bureau of Justice to make sure each part of the plans is up to federal standards. Our primary concern in construction plans will be to ensure officer and public safety first and foremost.”

Spencer also noted that generating revenue was never an expressed concern during the early meetings. “Only two issues were discussed: the need to have a correctional facility and the need to ensure public safety.” The plan calls for employing 40 to 50 people in correctional and support jobs. Jobs will not be restricted to tribal members.

Spencer added, “One of the good things about the Coeur d’Alene Tribe is that they have opened up all their programs to the general public. They’ve encouraged folks to come in and be a part of the community that we know here on the reservation.”