Incident highlights overcrowding issue
By Jamie Henneman/The Independent Staff
A recent fight between inmates in the Stevens County Jail over food trading resulted in a broken tooth and stiches for one inmate and assault charges for the instigator.
According to Stevens County Superior Court records, Jesse Spegal and Matthew Snyder got into a fight in the jail on Aug. 30 after Snyder refused to trade cookies from his lunch with Spegal, a practice which is not allowed between inmates.
In response, Spegal made derogatory comments to Snyder before hitting him on the back of the head with his hand and then striking him twice in the mouth with a Bible and punched him. Snyder was taken to the hospital for stitches and a broken tooth.
Spegal is being charged with one count of second degree assault over the incident.
The practice of trading food is not allowed in the jail, according to Stevens County Chief of Corrections Loren Hartman, because it often leads to arguments and retaliation between inmates.
“When people come here, all sense of normalcy is gone for them so little things can end up meaning a lot to them,” said Hartman.
Hartman noted that with regular overcrowding in the Stevens County Jail that is located in the basement of the county courthouse, tensions between inmates can escalate. An inmate count from August showed the jail housed an average of 53 inmates a day in a facility that has been modified to hold 40. The 40 bed capacity is an increase over the 22 inmates the jail was originally designed to house. In order to accommodate the 50 plus inmates in August, Hartman said the jail staff had to create beds on the floor.
“The overcrowding is a constant issue and we are no longer able to house inmates in other counties, as they are also seeing an increase in their inmate population,” Hartman related. “For our county, we are having to turn away some arrests that should be jailed because we don’t have the space. If we had a larger facility, we have the demand to house at least 100 people on a daily basis.”
Previous efforts to build a new jail facility have been struck down by Stevens County voters who were unwilling to pass a bond measure to build a new facility. A 2004 bond measure for $17.5 million that would have built a 116-bed jail and courtroom building through a 0.03 percent sales-tax increase was rejected by voters with 56 percent voting against.