It has been 30 years since a trial was held at the Scott County Courthouse.

Since then, trials and other judicial business has been moved a block away to a building on Hamilton Street when the county’s population was two-thirds smaller. 

The building is starting to show its age, according to those who work there.

The HVAC system is in need of constant repair and just one of the on going maintenance issues with the facility, said a deputy who asked not to be identified.

During the same jury duty selection meeting, Circuit Court Judge Jeremy Mattox handed out flyers to those residents, listing Scott County state representatives and senators. Mattox urged the packed courtroom of prospective jurors to contact their legislators and tell them about the overcrowding in the facility and request that Scott County be moved to the top of the list for a new judicial facility.

“Our main issue in Scott County is that our building was built at the exact wrong time,” the judge said. “It was built around 1990, just before the county’s growth exploded. 

“We went from two judges to five judges and from about 20,000 residents to nearly 60,000 residents. They just did not foresee the exponential growth in the coming decades.”

Tuesday, a group of inspectors walked through the facility to examine first hand the inadequacies of the building. The priority list for the limited construction dollars available for these types of projects will be established before the legislative session ends on April 15. 

“We are currently sixth on the list for renovation or new construction in the 2019 Judicial Branch Capital Projects Plan,” said Mattox. “However, the five counties that are in front of us may not all be capable of taking on the overhead of operating the existing court facility as a county owned/maintained building without being subsidized by an Administrative Office of Courts (AOC) lease. Therefore, there is a possibility that we may move up in the order.”

 Scott County has moved court dates to other facilities in neighboring counties to alleviate some of the overcrowding but that creates problems with transferring inmates and costs associated with the movement of prisoners, court officials said.

Rep. Phillip Pratt has introduced a bill as a result of contentious payments regarding the costs of transferring prisoners between one county to another. The bill has been rolled over to a similar bill. The law needs to be clear on which expenses will be paid by which county when multiple counties are involved with a legal process, Pratt said.

“HB 120 had very similar language to another house bill and accomplished a lot of the same goals so it has been rolled over into HB 361,” said  Pratt. “This bill is intended to help alleviate, to some degree, some of our jail overcrowding issues that we have in here in Scott County,” said Pratt. 

“The language of the bill relates to the transfer of prisoners and requires an agreement between an originating and receiving jail before ordering the transfer of a prisoner,” the legislator said. “The bill also specifies that if a transfer is ordered before receiving an agreement, the receiving jail shall not be required to house the prisoner nor shall the receiving jail’s jailer be subject to contempt. 

House Bill 361 outlines what a receiving jail may charge for housing a transferred prisoner and requires a sheriff to transport the transferred prisoner. It also requires a circuit judge to review his or her transfer order every 60 days. If the judge refuses then the AOC becomes responsible for the liability of the prisoner. 

“It provides for the transfer of state prisoners from jails at or over 150 percent capacity and allows a jail to place county prisoners in an area usually reserved for state prisoners if that area has vacant beds.”

The prison transfer issues and the overcrowding issues in general should be mitigated by a new facility, Mattox said. 

 “The AOC has determined that we are in need of a new facility and not a renovation of the current building,” he said. “That was a decision that was made at the state level by the Chief Justice, Director of AOC, and others involved in budgeting and facilities. The state legislature makes the ultimate decision on who receives funding based largely upon the recommendations of the Judicial Branch Capital Projects Plan and the proposed judicial branch budget.”

 

Jackie Anders can be reached at janders@news-graphic.com.

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