In this update, I would like to talk more about jail overcrowding. As of today, we have handled 1,000 more lodgings this year than we did in all of 2015. Ordinarily, an increase in business is welcomed, but that’s not the case when your job is fighting crime. With the increase in lodgings come more forced releases. I know that everyone is frustrated when they see a person being arrested for a crime, only to be released to commit another crime.
A new, bigger jail would solve many of these problems, but that will take some time. If we were to start a serious discussion about building a jail today, you are looking at a project that would take a minimum of five years to complete with all of the planning, construction, and training. Those discussions have started informally; in the meantime, we are focusing on effective short term solutions. Many of the processes we are implementing are proven practices that will continue to benefit us in the future, even after we build a new jail.
The 62 beds that we have in the basement of the jail are not being utilized at this time due to the excessive costs (overtime) that would be required to safely oversee them. Inadequate staffing levels and the inability to complete training were the two main reasons Sheriff Falls cited for closing the basement in 2015 after he took office. The basement should not have been opened with the unsafe staffing levels we had at the time it was completed in 2014.
Today, the jail is much closer to full staffing. We have filled all but two of our vacant corrections deputy positions – the most staffing we have had in many years. We currently have six deputies in training. Once they have completed the basic academy, they will be on the job. Additionally, through a lot of hard work by the Corrections supervisors and deputies, we have been able to provide every deputy with the recommended 40 hours of training needed in 2016. If everything continues as planned, we should have those 62 basement beds open sometime in the fall of 2017.
The effort to reduce overcrowding comes through cooperation and partnerships developed throughout the criminal justice system. Our local law enforcement officers will often “cite and release” a suspect rather than lodging them in the jail when it is appropriate, saving a jail bed for a more serious offender. We have also partnered with the courts and Community Justice to place release officers in the jail. These folks provide comprehensive information to assist judges in making decisions about who to release from jail after a court appearance. Mental health services are now being embedded within some law enforcement agencies to help officers find alternatives to jail for offenders who suffer from a mental illness. We are working with Jackson County Mental Health to get an additional professional on staff to work with inmates. Also, we now are able to offer a drug and alcohol treatment program for inmates with the assistance of staff from Community Justice.
All of the above efforts are made to reduce the jail population and to help to stop the revolving door. Unfortunately, we simply do not have enough resources to handle the growing number of inmates due to the increasing criminal activity in the county. While there is no perfect solution to solve the overcrowding issue, JCSO will continue to be innovative and proactive to find the best solutions with the ultimate goal of keeping our community safe.
Thank you for your support,
Captain Dan Penland