The American Civil Liberties Union says it expects to file a federal lawsuit against Bannock County within a month, seeking a court order to cap population of the 72-bed county jail at 31 prisoners.
The threatened legal action came after county voters on Tuesday rejected a $9.1 million bond issue for a new jail. The bond issue failed to get the two-thirds majority necessary, with 4,492 yes votes and 2,947 against, a majority of about 60 percent.Steve Pevar, an ACLU attorney in Denver, said Wednesday the federal suit will allege that crowded conditions at the jail violate the civil rights of inmates. Square-footage mandates that no more than 31 prisoners be incarcerated there, the ACLU contends.
Pevar said a federal judge will be asked to force the county to either release inmates, send them to other jails or place prisoners on "house arrest" to ease overcrowding.
Sheriff Bill Lynn said officials and a citizen committee gave the project their "best shot."
"We dealt our best card, and now it's up to the other players to deal theirs," Lynn said.
The sheriff said before the election that Pevar had made it clear that the ACLU was awaiting the election results before taking court action.
Officials blamed a backlash against increased property taxes, resentment against perceived coddling of prisoners and apathy as contributing to the bond's defeat.
The proposed 253-bed jail would have replaced the 1954-vintage Bannock County Jail adjacent to the county courthouse.
Lynn said he was disappointed at the relatively light turnout, 21 percent of the registered voters.