Panel looks to reduce jail population

Published: Friday, July 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, July 1, 2005 at 12:03 a.m.
Recommendations to reduce the Alachua County jail population will be developed by a panel of criminal justice officials in an effort to avert a costly jail expansion.
The Public Safety Coordinating Council was asked by the County Commission on Thursday to review the types of cases for which inmates are jailed, how they were ordered to the lockup and other data to figure out how more inmates can be weeded out without jeopardizing public safety.
"The problem has been around for some time but we haven't quite gotten our arms around this gorilla yet," Commissioner Rodney Long said. "Building a new jail at $12 million is not something this community wants."
County commissioners met jointly with the Public Safety Coordinating Council - which includes judges, prosecutors and Public Defender Rick Parker - Thursday to try to find solutions to the crowding. The average number of jail inmates in June was 1,009. The jail is designed for about 782 inmates but it can fit about 900 depending on the breakdown of inmate gender, crime classification and other factors.
Inmates now sometimes have to sleep in hallways and other areas because of the crowding.
County commissioners have been searching for ways to keep arrestees from being brought to the jail. For instance, police can issue notices to appear for a court date for minor infractions rather than make an arrest requiring a jail booking. Commissioners want to know if such alternatives can be increased.
Another possibility involves inmates sentenced to serve weekends in the jail. Instead, perhaps those offenders can be placed on weekend work crews to do projects around the county.
Temple University criminal justice professor Alan Harland was on hand Thursday to talk about a report he co-authored for the National Institute of Corrections, which was contracted to do a study of the jail.
Harland said the county should consider creating the job of "jail population specialist." Duties would include monitoring all inmates on a daily basis to make sure they are quickly moved into programs that could get them out of the jail. The specialist would also work with judges, jail staff and others to share information, and identify ways to reduce crowding.
Outgoing Chief Circuit Judge Stan Morris said the coordinating council has been hesitant to make recommendations without first getting a request from the commission, citing the separate roles of the judicial and legislative bodies.
But once asked, Morris agreed.
"We'll call a meeting of the (council) and give you recommendations. As long you are asking, I don't feel I'm stepping over the lines," Morris said. "The bigger picture here that the public is entitled to know is that we are not as efficient as we can be. What we are learning to day is that we are not going about this correctly."

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