Public Safety

Iowa County Jail named one of state's 'Best of the Best'

Iowa County Sheriff's Office head jailer sergeant Chris Stephan logs into the jail's TurnKey Corrections video visitatio
Iowa County Sheriff’s Office head jailer sergeant Chris Stephan logs into the jail’s TurnKey Corrections video visitation kiosk as he demonstrates the system at the Iowa County Jail in Marengo, Iowa on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. The system allows inmates to communicate with visitors while remaining in their cell pods, either with the visitors seated in the jail’s visiting room or with the visitors communicating using a web camera from a remote location. The system also allows inmates to order commissary items, message jail staff and read documents about jail conduct and policies. The jail has been awarded as being the “Best of the Best” for medium sized jails in Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

MARENGO — Cleanliness and innovation might not be words that come to mind when thinking of an Iowa jail, but that’s exactly what the state’s jail inspector considered when he presented the “Best of the Best” award to the Iowa County Jail for “meeting and going beyond” jail standards.

In the first-ever award given to jails, Iowa County received one of the two awards in the category of medium-sized jails — 26 to 100 beds — earlier this month during the Iowa Sheriffs and Deputies Association banquet by the Iowa Department of Corrections. The state jail inspector conducts inspections each year and each jail is rated for cleanliness, facility management, maintenance, documentation, professionalism, feedback of prisoners, major improvements and overall operations of the jail.

The corrections department’s chief jail inspector, Delbert Longley, with the assistance of association members, made the determination for the six awards. The other counties recognized were Madison and Shelby for small jails, Sioux for medium, and Dubuque and Marshall for large jails.

Longley said jail standards are the minimums that are required as set forth in Iowa law and best practices. The awards program is designed to recognize jails that go above and beyond the minimum, developing a professional culture in their facility.

Longley said the competition was strong, with several jails in consideration for these awards. Selecting the winners wasn’t an “easy task,” he added.

“It’s quite an honor I was completely surprised,” Iowa County Sheriff’s deputy Jeff Krotz, jail administrator, said. “I didn’t know they were doing this. In order to have a jail like this, you have to have a great staff who take it seriously and work to make improvements. You also have to have a great leader like Sheriff (Robert) Rotter.” Rotter pointed back to his “hard working” staff for achieving this award.

“The jail staff not only run the jail really well, but also treat those within it like fellow humans, which helps reduce recidivism,” Rotter said.

Krotz, who has been with the department since 2004 and over the jail since 2006, pointed out that the Benton County Board of Supervisors has helped earn this honor because they have been responsive to the needed upgrades for the jail over the years.

The 44-bed Marengo jail usually has about 25 inmates at a time, but the population goes up and down daily, Krotz said. Iowa County also houses numerous federal prisoners pending trials and sentencings.

Krotz said they also have helped surrounding counties by taking in their inmates over the year. Benton County inmates stayed in the jail for a year or so while repairs were completed following the flood a few years ago.

Krotz pointed out that a new video visitation system added this last year may have helped boost their rating. Touch-screen monitors were installed in every cell to allow inmates to have visitors and not leave their cells. The inmates pay so much a minute for calls to visitors who are not physically in the building. Visitors can still come in person but also speak to inmates over a monitor from the visitor’s room. “Visitors still have to be approved, but now some inmates get more visitors because many are from out of town or state who couldn’t come to the jail,” Krotz said. “The video visits have cut down safety issues because we’re not moving prisoners around and it frees up the deputies to do other duties.”

Krotz pointed out that even the small- and medium-sized jails get serious offenders, so any security measure decreases risks to the public, inmates and personnel.

Deputies are seeing less in-person visits because of the technology.

The inmates also can use the monitors to communicate with a deputy at any time, read jail policy and rules and order commissary items such as snacks, Krotz said. Some of the times, an inmate may need something or just have a question that can be handled quickly by one of the jail staff.

Another improvement to the jail will start this week as staff will upgrade the security system to go from analog to digital, Krotz noted.

“They’ll be running wires and hanging cameras,” Krotz said. “There will be about 70 cameras throughout the building.”

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