After years of shipping off Scott County’s inmates to jails as far as Linn County in Iowa and Tazewell County in Illinois, the last inmates housed outside the county returned this week.

The last three inmates, who are juveniles, returned to Scott County on Tuesday. The jail population on Wednesday was 276, below the capacity of 354, Sheriff Dennis Conard said.

The county shipped inmates elsewhere starting in 1999 after the state jail inspector capped the jail’s inmate population at 214. The $29.7 million jail opened in January, but wasn’t able to use the 354-bed capacity because of renovations to the 1983 jail addition.

Conard said it is nice to have some breathing room after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to house inmates outside the county and transport them to and from Scott County. The county budgeted about $250,000 this year on housing inmates outside the county and paid out more than $50,000, but that is well below the worst months the county faced in the past, paying more than $160,000 per month at times in 2007.

“The out-of-town trips to Jones and Cedar counties will hopefully be ended for a while,” Conard said.

Women and juveniles had to be housed outside the county for the most part since the new jail opened. Additional housing for both groups was included in the 1983 building renovation. The jail has had spikes in that population in the last year.

The county recently had 17 juvenile inmates in custody, with only 10 beds in the juvenile detention center while work was being completed in the 1983 jail addition. Now completed, Scott County can house 17 juveniles.

“If we spike like that again and there is no space available at the detention center, we will house out again,” Conard said.

Special items for the jail’s juvenile area, including a sprinkler head guard and a television enclosure for the dayroom, delayed its opening.

“We know that can be a difficult population,” Dave Donovan, director of facilities and support services, said. “When you put (sprinkler heads and televisions) in the dayroom with the inmates where they aren’t supervised, they can be damaged. We were trying to address all of those issues.”

Only a handful of items remain before the downtown project is completed.

“We didn’t think it would take this long, but there are always unexpected delays in any renovation,” Conard said. “If this had been a straight building project, it wouldn’t have taken so long, but because of the complexity of what we were doing, it was anticipated there would be issues like this.”

Bids are due Jan. 8 for the renovation of the sheriff’s department’s Tremont Avenue building. It serves as a jail annex and patrol headquarters. When completed, the county will be able to house 500 inmates.

The county won’t likely house inmates for other law enforcement agencies in the near future, Conard said. He wants to get the Tremont project completed before taking on inmates for other agencies. The county will also have to consider some policies involving the use of the Tremont annex.

“We know there may be some (population) peaks and when Tremont is completed we will have more than 500 beds between the two,” said retiring county administrator Ray Wierson. “When do we open the pods out there? Do we open them early as part of a business model to make money? That will be some decisions they will make next year.”

Kurt Allemeier can be contacted at (563) 383-2360 or kallemeier@qctimes.com. Comment on this story at qctimes.com.