Court programs help regulate inmate population

Published 3:00 am Saturday, July 28, 2018

A consultant that studied the construction of a new county jail told commissioners Monday that “population control factors” in the court system have limited the number of inmates staying in the jail.

Ken Upchurch, cofounder of TCU Consulting Services, said these population control factors make it possible that a 129-bed facility could serve the county for years to come despite some increases in court caseloads and expected rises in population.

Circuit Clerk Jamie Scarbrough explained that Upchurch is referencing several programs offered in the Pike County court system that divert certain offenders from jail time.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Those programs include a pre-trial diversion program, a drug court, the 12th judicial drug rehabilitation court and veterans court.

“This is more about rehabilitating people than it is to control the jail population,” Scarbrough said. “It’s about helping people get rehabilitated instead of getting into the prison system.”

Although the intent is primarily focused on helping the people charged with first-offense crimes such as drug possession, Scarbrough said the effect on the jail population is an added benefit.

“They weren’t specifically set up for that, but I think anybody in the court system in the long run would rather rehabilitate someone than have them wind up in prison,” Scarbrough said “It will help them, their families, and the prison population down the road. It benefits us as a community.”

Another factor Scarbrough said plays a role in limiting the number of inmates at the jail is the court’s practice of setting low bonds, often the lowest allowed by guidelines set by the Supreme Court.

“Every class of a felony we basically give the minimum bond on,” Scarbrough said. “We’re not trying to use bonds as punishment. The only time we’ve increased bonds is if there are external factors – if the suspects are repeat offenders or if we’re worried that they might abscond.”

Keeping the bonds at a minimum allows more of the inmates to be released from jail while awaiting their court dates.

Data analyzed by TCU shows that the number of inmates released in any given year between 2010 and 2018 was within two of the number of inmates booked that same year.

In four of those years, more inmates were released than were booked, in three years more inmates were booked than released and one year had the same number of inmates booked and released.

Scarbrough said she expects for the programs and practices contributing to the jail’s relatively stable number of average daily inmates to remain in use for the forseeable future.

“I’m sure that they will remain in place, Scarbrough said. “I don’t know of any reason to end them unless they drastically begin failing.”

All inmates convicted of misdemeanors should be in the jail for a year or less at a time based on the Code of Alabama sentencing statutes for misdemeanors.

“Anything a year or more they are to spend that time in the Department of Corrections,” Scarbrough said. In Alabama, all misdemeanors are punishable by only up to one year in jail and all felonies are punishable by a minimum of a year in prison.

All inmates awaiting trial in the local district or circuit court, including those facing felony charges, are held in the Pike County Jail unless they are bonded out.

The information is one key piece of data for the commissioners to consider as they determine what new jail facility to build for the county.

The commission passed a temporary sales tax to fund construction of the jail in 2017. It is 1.5 percent countywide except within the Troy city limits, where it is 0.5 percent.