When Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Shrader told the county Board of Commissioners that the county was nearing the next stage of its jail crowding crisis, it provided an opportunity for Shrader and the board to discuss the issue and possible solutions.
Shrader addressed the board on Jan. 28,saying that the Sheriff’s Office was “dangerously close” to needing to implement “enhanced arrest standards” at the county jail
Shrader said that the jail’s population had that morning exceeded the 1,172-capacity number at which the jail must begin releasing inmates in order to stay under its capacity.
The sheriff’s office had previously had to release dozens of jail inmates before their sentences were up on two occasions earlier in the month. Jail capacity became an issue at the start of the year after the sheriff closed a floor of the jail as part of countywide budget cuts.
Enhanced arrest standards, which involve only booking inmates who have committed certain crimes into the jail, are the next step the department will use to manage the jail population once it has released all the inmates who are eligible to be released early.
Shrader told the commissioners he had already notified local police departments that use the jail about that possibility and had his staff engage them in conversations about strategies for incarcerating fewer people.
“It is conceivable that we get a call when we go into enhanced arrest standards where somebody is breaking into cars, and a deputy sheriff shows up and as they contact that suspect there is a fight to get them apprehended, and when he is apprehended he has multiple credit cards that don’t belong to him, multiple IDs and maybe drugs,” Shrader said.
“None of those will be sufficient enough to book that person into jail under the enhanced arrest standards.”
Shrader said the current situation also has led to “a greater concentration of bad people in the jail” that had resulted in four deputies being assaulted in the last eight weeks.
“That is a bit unprecedented,” Shrader said.
Commissioners ponder solutions
Commissioner Casey Tighe said that one potential solution would be for the county to focus on allowing more people to bond out of jail after getting arrested through pretrial release.
“Hopefully we can continue to push to have appropriate and safe pre-trial standards in order to make sure people are processed through the system quickly and if they can safely be processed though then we cannot have them in the jail as long to keep the jail population at a reasonable number,’ Tighe said.
Tighe also expressed hope that the criminal justice coordinating committee, a group that includes representatives from the police, the District Attorney’s office and other groups that is tasked with addressing jail space issues, could help to promote solutions, including increased usage of pretrial release. Shrader and Tighe are both members of that committee.
Tighe, however, said “progress” on that committee has been glacial for the five years he has been on it and that many of the possible steps to ease the population of the jail are already being utilized. Tighe, in turn, expressed agreement that progress had been slow on the committee but said the jail crisis is introducing a new sense of urgency.
Commissioner Lindsay Szabo also asked Shrader why if it would be possible to temporarily house inmates at jails in neighboring counties when the population demanded it.
“Would we do that?” Shrader said of the idea of one county accepting another’s inmates. “We wouldn’t bear the cost of some other county. The great likelihood is its going to be anywhere be between $75 and $100 a day to house them somewhere else. Its more expensive to house them somewhere else than to have the staff to house them here.”
Commissioner Lesley Dahlkemper also expressed a desire for the county to attempt to identify new strategies and efficiencies for managing the population and emphasized that it is necessary for the community to see the county attempting to do that.
“We have a community that’s asking us are you looking at innovations, are you looking at efficiencies, how are you prioritizing and what is the rationale behind your decisions?” Dahlkemper said. “I think it’s up to all of us to be able to share those responses so our community isn’t confused and they are clear on why we are making the decisions we are making.”
As of Feb. 10, the Sheriff’s Office had not had to release inmates since Jan. 21. However, it has come close with inmate population reaching 1,168 on Feb. 10, just two shy of the 1,170 figure that would trigger releases.
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