WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Open House for Lee County Jail

Montrose, IA – Lee County Sheriff Buck Jones joined the department in 1978. At that time, the Lee County Jail did not even exist.

"When I was first hired, there was a 24-hour holding facility at the old Sheriff's office in Fort Madison," said Jones. "It was a big bull-pen with a drunk tank which consisted of four sides of round steel bars."

Lee County transitioned from that holding facility to a new 24-bed complex near Montrose in 1981. Capacity there was eventually increased to 67 by double-bunking inmates and adding temporary housing trailers.

Jones says that while the original Lee County Jail was considered "top-of-the-line" in 1981, is was really showing its age 25 years later. He says that's why the county moved forward with the expansion and renovation.

"The old jail was like a Motel 6," said Jones. "I don't want people to think this is the Taj Mahal, but for the safety of our employees and for helping us do our jobs, this is like the Marriott."

The Lee County Jail is now a 30,000 square-foot facility that can house 96 inmates with expansion to 144 beds available.

Cameras are located throughout the complex so correctional officers can keep track of all activity in the jail on large computer monitors in the control room. Jones says the C.O.'s can also control cell doors as needed, which improves safety.

"If the staff wanted to, they could move an inmate anywhere in the jail facility without having a staff member with them," said Jones. "The doors are set up where there is a short distance between the doors that once they get between two doors, they have nowhere to go. So it has made things much better than what it was."

Jones says inmates can also be classified now so violent offenders or those with mental health problems (both male and female) can be separated from the general population. The actual jail also features video screens for visits and private rooms so inmates can meet with their lawyers.

The administrative wing includes separate offices for the Sheriff, the Chief Deputy, and the Jail Administrator as well as a squad room for deputies. It also features training and conference space, an expanded evidence room, storage closets, and Lee Comm (the county's new consolidated dispatch system.)

The expansion and renovation cost about $6.3-million. Voters overwhelmingly gave Lee County permission to borrow more than $5-million for the project on August 2007.

County supervisor Larry Kruse is confident residents will see they made a wise investment in public safety.

More than 50 people turned out for an open house, Sunday afternoon, at the Lee County Jail.