Many factors involved in managing jail population

Published 10:15 am Friday, March 8, 2019

Ken Upchurch, TCU Consulting Services cofounder, praised the Pike County Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney’s Office and commission at a public hearing in February for their management of the jail’s inmate population.

“What we saw when we were looking at your data is that the inmate population has remained mostly flat,” Upchurch said. “That’s amazing. There are other counties out there that would love to have that.”

Sheriff Russell Thomas said that officers and the court system do work together to keep inmates moving out of the jail if possible, but it is not as simple as simply releasing inmates because new inmates are coming in.

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“We’re not letting anybody go just because we don’t have the room,” Thomas said.

But there are factors that the sheriff’s office, attorneys and judges do work on to keep inmates from staying in the jail unnecessarily.

Circuit Clerk Jamie Scarbrough explained some of the programs that the court offers that do serve to reduce the overall jail population.

“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.

Thomas said most of the inmates in jail are awaiting trial for felony charges, and the inmates who don’t bond out are typically charged with more severe crimes.

Inmates awaiting trial on misdemeanors or lesser felonies are usually able to bond out, Thomas said, or the judges and attorneys work with them to find an alternative solution to jail time.

Thomas said he believes the inmate population will rise once the new jail is built with the demographics of today and the future in mind.

One specific area of concern for the jail is the growth of the female population, Thomas said.

“In 1957 it wasn’t even designed to house females,” Thomas said. “It was designed to house 40 males. The female cell is a juvenile cell converted into a female cell. The inmate population of females is increasing because of drug culture. About 85 percent of our crime is drug-related, statistics show it. Most of your cases involving females, probably 90 percent, are drug-related don’t think you’re going to see that change.”

Right now, if a woman has to be separated form the other women in the cell, the county is having to send that woman to another county.

Thomas hopes with the design of the new jail that will no longer be a problem for the county, but managing the population of the jail will remain an issue that the jail administration, law enforcement and the court system will monitor.

“The county is growing, the university is growing, new industry is coming in,” Thomas said. “The more people you have, the more crime you have.”