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Inmate Lawsuit Results in Swift Closure of Decrepit Walworth County Jail

Last week, inmates at the Walworth County Jail sued the county in federal court, arguing that the 111-year-old facility was “outdated, grossly inadequate, and dangerous.”

Apparently not eager to argue the point in court, the Walworth County Commission voted yesterday to close the jail and ship its inmates elsewhere. Attorney Jim Leach (hey, I know that guy) said the county needs to hurry up:

Attorney Jim Leach of Rapid City represents the seven inmates who sued the county.

“We want the jail closed much sooner than 30 days, because it’s a fire hazard in multiple respects, and they have no fire exits,” Leach said Tuesday after the commission’s vote. “But when the jail is closed, the lawsuit will be concluded.”

The county commissioners tried to build a new jail two years ago. Voters rejected a $10.5 million bond issue [Seth Tupper, “Facing Lawsuit, Officials Vote to Close Jail,” SDPB, 2020.10.06].

Walworth County will lose a revenue stream by closing its jail; it was contracting to house other counties’ inmates for $95 a day, which could bring a couple thousand dollars a day into the county’s coffers during a crime wave. Leach says his clients aren’t looking to cash in; they just want to do their time in cells that are up to code:

On Tuesday, Leach told the Capital Journal he didn’t know about the Commission vote until after it happened just before noon, Oct. 6.

“I was pleasantly surprised,” Leach said. “What does it mean? Once they follow through on it, the case will be dismissed, because that will have given us exactly what we asked.”

His clients did not seek specific damages, Leach said. Proving any damages to any specific inmate could be a difficult row to hoe, for one thing.

“What my clients wanted was not to be held in that really dangerous, awful jail anymore” [Stephen Lee, “Walworth County Commission Votes to Close Beleaguered Jail in Selby,” Pierre Capital Journal, 2020.10.07].

Lee reports Walworth County inmates will likely end up 90 miles south in the Hughes County Jail in Pierre.


  1. Joe 2020-10-07 17:37

    My paternal Uncle Emil was Walworth County sheriff, back in the day. Even then the jail was sketchy.

  2. Bob Newland 2020-10-07 18:22

    I suggest they re-open as a bed-and-torture facility. $95 a day sounds about right. Their customers would come from a significant niche market of people representatives of whom I see at convenience stores all over the high plains.

  3. grudznick 2020-10-07 19:08

    Let us hope the prisoners are shipped to shiny, safe lockups with crappy but nutritious food and really mean guards who make them toe the line and think hard about their demon-weed stoked crimes.

  4. Notinks 2020-10-07 22:15

    I visited the Walworth County jail 25 years ago when I worked for the State. We conducted inspections to make sure jails weren’t housing juveniles, etc. Their confinement records were logged in a giant ledger book that produced clouds of dust when it was deposited on a table. Like something out of Tales of the Crypt. That place was a dungeon.

  5. grudznick 2020-10-07 22:56

    Back in the day there was what the young fellows called a “head shop” downtown Mobridge, in the county of Walworth. grudznick and some others who had gone hunting were looking for a tasty beverage in our misspent youth. There was a “head” that came in, shopping for toking devices of ill repute and he was clearly whacked out on the demon weed. The cop came in and got all confused and took the lot of us over to the other town where the jail was. Sorted out, it was, with a few simple phone calls to the lawyer types, and I was cut loose without being written down in the dusty book. So there is grudznick’s experience with the Walworth County jail. The “head” fellow got put in the hooscow and for all I know he’s been there 50 years and is one of the fellows being transfered to some nicer facility.

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