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Jail Overcrowding

A local news station in Bannock County, Idaho published an article on how one problem, COVID-19, has solved another problem, overcrowding, in their county jail. Sheriff Lorin Nielson recounts how Bannock County Jail is much too small for the number of people being kept there. The jail has seen overcrowding for six or seven years according to Nielson. This overpopulation problem has caused chaos in the jail, including riots, fights and major lack of space for inmates. Additionally, the funding to build a new, larger jail is not possible as it is not appealing to county taxpayers.

However, COVID-19 seems to be helping reduce the jail population.  The courts have been sending people home on what they call “their own recognizance”, which is a no-cash bail system. Instead of sitting in jail until they are able to post bail, they are being sent home without having to pay a bail fee. People being sent home are normally incarcerated for a DUI or misdemeanor violations, including technical ones. With these people being able to go home, there has been a major reduction in overcrowding and unnecessary individuals in jail. Usually, the jail reaches capacity at 333 people but last Wednesday reported there were only 250 people incarcerated. This has been the lowest number of people incarcerated in a while says Sheriff Nielson.

Also, “own recognizance” is helping contain the spread of COVID-19, as it mitigates officers, personnel and inmates being exposed to new people coming in who may have the disease. This keeps everyone safer and helps reduce contact between individuals. The new policy is helping reduce overcrowding and keep people safer in uncertain and hard times.

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Jail Overcrowding, Justice Reform

Recently, a coalition of criminal justice reform groups have come out with a list of recommendations to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Slowly, inmates and prison employees are beginning to test positive for the fast spreading coronavirus. Because of this the reform groups have created a plan referred to as “SAFER”. They are fighting to suspend jail time for technical violations and suspend probation office visits and payments of fines. They are encouraging the adoption of smart alternatives to incarceration. And they are pushing to provide free medical visits and treatment, hand sanitizer, soap, and protective gear to help prevent the spread. Extra precautions for guards and staff are being initiated and the release of the elderly and vulnerable to home confinement is being advocated for. 

 

“People in prisons, jails, or under community supervision are more at risk of contracting and spreading the virus, given their age, underlying health conditions, and close contact to each other”, says Jessica Jackson, Chief Advocacy Officer at REFORM Alliance. Protecting inmate populations is just as vital to stopping the spread of coronavirus and keeping communities safe. REFORM Alliance created “SAFER” in the hopes of helping to do this as it was developed in consultation with medical and justice system experts. COVID-19 is continuing to spread quickly and it is in the best interest of communities to not allow prisons and jails to become hot spots for the virus. 

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Jail Overcrowding

According to an article written by the Times News, a former inmate of the Sullivan County Jail in Tennessee filed a $3 million law suit over the conditions of the jail. The inmate recalls how dangerous and overcrowded the jail was, as well as being understaffed and lacking security. He also tells his story of how he was assaulted by a correctional officer in October of 2018. Due to understaffing, lack of security and the jail not being run properly, many inmates suffer from violence from correctional officers and other inmates.

The Sullivan County Jail was built 35 years ago and is designed to accommodate 620 inmates. However, because of overcrowding it has been known to typically hold between 900 and 1,000 inmates. Some inmates do not have beds and sleep on floors in the facility, being supervised by two guards to every 300 or so inmates. The facility has been known to be considered poorly designed, with lots of blind spots, maze like corridors and security cameras that can easily be covered. These issues cause major safety threats and problems to the health of inmates and corrections officers. 

The lawsuit filed by the former inmate listed excessive force, failure to protect an inmate in custody, failure to train and supervise officers, unsafe jail conditions, assault and battery, false improvement and outrageous conduct. Overcrowding in prisons and jails leads to many safety risks and harm on both guards and inmates. It is a problem that needs to be addressed as the number of inmates increases in facilities globally. 

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Jail Overcrowding

Harold Edward Hill described his experience inside Madison County Detention Center in an article published by the Lexington Herald Leader. The detention center is known for its overcrowding and high-volume population, that the facility simply cannot keep up with. The conditions he describes are some people would never want to be exposed to or have to live with. He describes water leaking from walls causing mold, overcrowding, filth, sweltering heat, spoiled food and violence caused by other inmates. Those in the facility would sleep on concrete grounds without so much as a cot or mat and would be confined to spaces so small at some points they would be touching other inmates. With so many issues, it causes mental health breakdowns and many health issues that the inmates are unable to resolve. 

Harold filed a lawsuit including all these details, which were verified by reports filed by inspectors for the Kentucky Department of Corrections. All these issues are due to overcrowding and overpopulation in the facility. The Madison County jail is aware of the conditions and states “This is, and has been, an ongoing problem that we try to accommodate to the best of our ability.” The jail is built to hold 184 people but recently has held more than 400 people. With so many people and so little space, it is causing serious conflict and health violations.

Overcrowding is a problem in most facilities across the United States and many do not have the resources to deal with overcrowding or options to send inmates to other facilities to reduce prison populations. They are fined based on the violations but are struggling with finding solutions to reduce overcrowding. The Madison County jail is working to reduce these inhumane living conditions that inmates face but can only do so much with limited access to resources, space and funding. 

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Jail Overcrowding

The Loveland Reporter-Herald recently published an article about authorizing financing for a jail expansion project in Larimer County. A week ago, the Larimer County commissioners voted to issue $75 million in certificates of participation to finance the expansion of Larimer County Jail. It was the final piece of a three-part measure to address issues of overcrowding and community needs. The county will make annual payments over the next 15 years to pay for the expansion project. 

The committee that oversees the jail expansion is focused on creating more space for inmates in the jail to alleviate overcrowding. They also are concerned with creating better rehabilitative processes and programs surrounding mental health, education and substance abuse. The committee fully agrees that these are important matters to be considered and to put money towards but their priority for now is working on providing more space and dealing with issues of overcrowding. The court systems cannot always keep up with the number of cases it has, so people awaiting trial are stuck in jail until they have their hearing, leading to overcrowding. 

With the $75 million budget for renovations and expansion of the jail, the county can improve the overcrowding issue and add to the facility to house more people. 

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Jail Overcrowding

More than 1,000 inmates are currently in Sullivan County Jail. They are at critical capacity and have received scrutiny for their handling of the situation. They only have 619 beds and are extremely understaffed. This lack of staff members makes it inherently difficult to properly care for inmates, and the jail is desperately in need of programs to alleviate the overcrowding dilemma. “It’s a very violent facility. We’re getting a lot of assaults, inmate on inmate assaults, inmate on officer assaults,” Sheriff Cassidy said. A new program has been developed for the jail with the intent to illuminate the reasons prisoners ended up incarcerated in the first place and provide them with the knowledge and skills they need to be productive citizens. 

David Stanley once served 17 months in this same jail for securities fraud and is now certified to lead the cognitive therapy program. The program takes place twice a week. Moral Reconation Therapy, or MRT, is a systematic therapy approach that aims to reduce recurrence by enhancing moral reasoning among juvenile and adult criminal offenders. It teaches that if you want your life to be better, you must be better. The second phase of the program teaches inmates vocational skills necessary for sustaining gainful employment when they are released. “We’re just looking forward to what the future holds and seeing these inmates flourish outside of jail.” Sheriff Cassidy said.

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Jail Overcrowding
Overcrowding is becoming a frightening dilemma for many jails. The Sarasota County Jail is no different. Building a new jail to house these excess inmates is incredibly expensive to taxpayers, costing upwards of $100 million. To ease this overcrowding, the County Sheriff’s Office is utilizing what they call a “pod” program. Sarasota United for Responsibility and Equity (SURE) introduced the Addiction Recovery Program in partnership with the Salvation Army and the Sheriff’s Office in Sarasota County. These pods are intended to reduce recidivism rates while increasing an inmate’s productivity while incarcerated. All inmates in a pod are housed together. Instead of the inmates having excessive free time, they spend that time in programs, meetings, and receiving help for their various needs. The pods are completely voluntary, and any interested inmates must sign up to be included in them. There are up to 48 inmates in each pod and violence of any kind is strictly prohibited.

There are a multitude of pods in the prison, each dedicated to a specific program for rehabilitation and life skills. The addiction recovery pod has been in use for ten years, and in 2019 two new pod programs are being implemented in the jail; the care pod and the re-entry pod. The care pod is focused on providing mental health assistance. In the re-entry pod inmates will take parenting classes, learn how to search for jobs, create resumes and learn the importance of financial stability. Many of the inmates in these pods don’t know about the importance of credit scores, financing vehicles or budgeting. Without these essential skills and a secure footing in how to survive outside of prison, there is a very high risk of them reoffending. The pod program has shown to be very efficient and has changed the lives of countless inmates.
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Jail Overcrowding

Jail overcrowding is one of the most increasingly devastating dilemmas plaguing our justice system. One Missouri county, with the assistance of a company called All Detainment Solutions, claims to have a fantastic and cost-effective fix – storing their surplus of inmates in semi-trailers in a parking lot surrounded by a wire fence. It has been one year since Greene County adopted this unconventional practice. There are currently 108 men living in the 52-foot semi-trailers, meaning that every person has space that is less than half the capacity of a ping-pong table. Greene County Sheriff, Jim Arnott, has assessed that most of the men in the trailers have been charged with a crime and are pending trial, some of them could even be innocent. Many legal experts have deemed the confined spaces in these trailers as inhumane. David Shapiro, former staff attorney for the ACLU’s National Prison Project, has deemed this temporary jail a “recipe for disaster.”


Until work is completed on their expanded jail, the situation is said to be temporary. However, the completion of the jail is still years away, with no specific date of completion. County officials have suggested that the temporary prison could be kept open even after the permanent facility has expanded. There is already a multimillion-dollar contract with Canyon County Idaho for All Detainment Solutions to build a similar jail, and most likely more to follow.

Though this temporary jail is a creative and cost-effective way to tackle the problem of overcrowding, it will not solve the problem. Overcrowding of our prisons is just an indication of a wider problem with our underfunded criminal justice system and lack of sufficient community services. Instead of investing in warehousing inmates, we should be investing in programs that allow low-risk offenders or those who can’t afford bail, to be released on community supervision, saving both space and money.

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Jail Overcrowding

In the beginning of February, the House of Delegates in West Virginia approved a bill to help alleviate the overcrowding of their regional jails. The bill (HB 2190) requires individuals charged with certain misdemeanors to be released on personal recognizance instead of bail. This leads to both humanitarian and practical advantages, according to House Judiciary Chairman, John Shott, R-Mercer. 


The House Judiciary Committee was informed last week by Deputy Corrections Commissioner, Mike Coleman, that counties paid regional jails $1.9 million in 2018 for defendants who could not post bail of $1,000 or less. In 2018, approximately 3,750 people were jailed on misdemeanor charges and spent 11 days in jail before they were capable of posting bond. With a total of 41,058 days billed to counties, this policy of bail for misdemeanor charges carried a hefty price of $48.25 a day.

Spending any amount of time in jail, even a few days, can drastically affect one’s ability to retain a job. It is not uncommon for those waiting in jail to lose their jobs due to missing days of work. Not being able to tend to children or support their family is also an unfortunate outcome of time spent in jail while waiting to pay bail.  Misdemeanors generally include petty theft, disturbing the peace, public drunkenness, and traffic violations. Booking misdemeanor offenders takes time away from law enforcement officers that could spend their time on more serious offenses.


Releasing those accused of nonviolent crimes on personal recognizance is unquestionably valuable in solving the encroaching problem of overcrowding regional prisons. Those charged with misdemeanors involving violence, the threat of violence, crimes where the victim is a minor, the use of a deadly weapon, violations of the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, or traffic offenses including negligent homicide or driving under the influence would still be required to pay cash bail. 


This legislation allowing the release of most individuals charged with non-violent crimes on personal recognizance bonds was advanced to the Senate, where it passed with a vote of 91 – 4. Reforms such as this bill, are necessary to mitigate the encroaching dilemma of jail overcrowding. In addition to allowing officers to be present for more serious offenses and giving offenders the accountability of appearing for their court date, the reform will grant counties the ability to allocate those costs to other budgets.
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Jail Overcrowding

According to the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC), the jail population in Coffee County has seen a 25 percent decline in recent weeks. Currently, there are about 320 prisoners in the county jail, roughly 100 fewer than a few months ago. The Sheriff’s Department of Coffee County works collectively with other county organizations and departments on the issue of reducing prison populations, while also ensuring that the community is free from risks. Coffee County has made such an improvement on their prison population primarily by utilizing modern technology.

In 2017, cases began being handled through a video conferencing system between the judges and inmates. The judge would sit on their bench in court while the inmates appear on a video monitor from the jail, completely negating fuel costs and saving taxpayers money. This practice is also safer and more secure. Before video conferences took place, arraignments could take all day and required the inmate to be placed in a holding cell in the justice center. If this trend continues, the change would lead to some $1.5 million in annual savings for taxpayers in the county.

Department officials are also examining various alternative prison practices like the use of a house arrest system with an ankle monitor. Though house arrest and electronically monitored parole has been very successful, using an ankle monitor carries a stigma and only provides the GPS location on a map. The TRACKPhone™ is a modern replacement for the ankle monitor and has a vast assortment of utilities, such as rehabilitative support, behavioral assessments and remote video meetings with parole officers. Ankle monitors can be excessively expensive, costing up to $40 a day. By taking advantage of TRACKTech technology, Coffee County could reduce their prison population even more while saving more money for the taxpayers.

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