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Sheriff Johnson explains jail expansion

Lincoln County Sheriff Shane Johnson explained some upgrades and construction completed at the Lincoln County Jail in Kemmerer this week in an interview with SVI Media. 

Johnson commented, “It was a big project. When that building was actually built, there was an area left for an addition. It was already enclosed, and it had a dirt floor.”

The state has had issues with overcrowding in its jails, so the Lincoln County Commissioners decided to add an additional 24 beds/12 cells to its Kemmerer facility. The current jail is built in a pie shape, and the additional rooms add another slice to the pie.

The new addition will enable the county to bring in more state inmates, which will add to revenue for the county. The addition needs some minor tasks done for final completion, but is essentially ready to go now. 

Johnson explained that the number of inmates at the Kemmerer facility got close to 40 at one time. He said, “They come and go a little bit, depending on their status at the state––some going to the honor farm, some of them, for various reasons, we send back, or they are summoned back if they have administrative hearings to go to.”

The jail’s previous “comfort level’ was at about 25-30 inmates. The recent addition will allow the county to raise that number. Johnson indicated as soon as the work was finished, he will meet with state officials to update them on the jail’s capacity. 

As the construction has progressed, Johnson indicated that it will be pre-compliant to meet the requirements of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which is a set of processes put in place to protect inmates from any type of sexual contact or sexual abuse. Johnson indicated, “That’ll be a big deal at the state level. It will allow them to maybe fill up that new pod, maybe fill two pods now with some inmates, which again, is a good source of income for the county.”

Johnson addressed the concern of bringing criminals into the community. He clarified that the current group of detainees is medium-risk, and they are never allowed to interact with the local community. Some inmates are serving long sentences, but they arrive at a sally port inside the jail. They are confined to the jail, and when they leave, they leave from the same sally port area. 

A newly constructed cell in the Lincoln County Jail. (Photo Courtesy of Lincoln County Sheriff’s Dept.)

Some of the inmates come from other places in the state. None are actually from Lincoln County. Some of them are from out of state, but they were sentenced in Wyoming, so they’re serving time in Wyoming even though they’re not from Wyoming.

With the increased capacity for inmates, Johnson addressed the issue of potential staffing, “We’re in the process of hiring just to keep staffed right now. I think we have one position open currently. If we get a commitment from the state, then I’ll approach the commissioners about possibly adding staff to make sure that we can safely take on those additional numbers.” 

Future staffing will depend on being able to fill the newly-built cells and having a commitment from the state that additional inmates will be staying.

Sheriff Johnson plans to take a trip to Cheyenne within the next couple of weeks and meet with the Department of Corrections Director, Daniel Shannon, and let him know of Lincoln County Jail’s new capacity, and possibly even take some photos of the new cells. Johnson wants to “sit down with Shannon, let him know what we’re prepared for––let him know what our status is on pre-compliance and get on the radar there.”

Johnson praised his staff, “Our detention guys do an amazing job. A lot of the inmates that came wanted to stay here, didn’t want to go back to the state. They’re still inmates but we treat them like humans, and they really like the job we’re doing at the state level.”

Based on 30 inmates, the county would receive approximately $600,000 in revenue. Johnson clarified that the money goes directly to the general fund. Some of what the jail brings in goes back into food and medical services for inmates.

The way the money has been used previously was to make the payment on the building. The funding for it wasn’t coming from taxpayer-generated funds.