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County jail turning away highly intoxicated inmates

FOREST CITY (AP) — Officials in northern Iowa are concerned that highly intoxicated inmates are being turned away from a new county jail, a policy the sheriff says has been implemented because of liability concerns.

Forest City and Lake Mills officials met at the Winnebago County Board of Supervisors’ meeting Tuesday to discuss Winnebago County Jail’s policy.

Individuals who have a blood alcohol content level of .30 or more or those who refuse to take a breath test to determine their blood alcohol content level have often been turned away from the county jail, said Lake Mills Police Chief Dave Thomas.

Highly intoxicated individuals who are turned away from the jail are taken to the hospital or released to a family member, said Sheriff Dave Peterson. More than a quarter of Iowa counties with jails have a similar policy, he said.

The jail also won’t accept inmates who are suicidal, Peterson said.

“We aren’t going to run that risk,” he said.

Liability is a concern because of the growing number of lawsuits filed against jails, said County Supervisor Bill Jensvold.

“It’s a liability issue having someone about to drown in his own vomit in jail,” he said.

But releasing inmates prior to their court date is also problematic, Thomas said.

“If that’s not a liability issue, I don’t know what is,” Thomas said.

Forest City Mayor Barney Ruiter said he’s concerned about having to pay taxes for the jail and not being able to properly utilize the facility.

Winnebago County voters approved a $4.6 million bond referendum in May 2015 to build the Winnebago County public safety center, which includes the new jail.

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