Jail crowding costing county

$100,000 cost still less than expanding jail, county says
Jul. 14, 2013 @ 07:03 AM

Caldwell County had to spend more than $100,000 during the last fiscal year to send jail inmates to other counties because of overcrowding in the jail here.

But county officials say most of the problem is recent and may be a temporary spike, so discussions about whether the Caldwell County Detention Center on Morganton Boulevard should be expanded have been minimal.

The detention center was built in 1999, designed to house 153 men and 32 women, a total of 185 inmates. As of Thursday, 231 inmates were assigned to the jail. But 33 were being held in jails elsewhere, leaving Caldwell with 198 inmates.

"Any time the facility is overcrowded, it leads to increased tension and hostility among the inmate population, as well as overtaxing the facility, resources and staff in their efforts to comply with all federal and state laws," said Maj. David Anderson of the Caldwell County Sheriff's Office.

Anderson said inmates all are housed in regular cells. Beds have not been set up in temporary structures or common areas.

The county has agreements in place to house inmates in Alleghany, Ashe, Buncome, Cabarrus, Gaston, Haywood and Madison counties. The most recent that was signed was in May with Gaston County and calls for Caldwell County to pay $55 per inmate per day, and transportation costs to and from the jail. Caldwell County will also incur any medical expenses for inmates from Caldwell County while housed in their facilities.

Caldwell County Sheriff's Capt. Marc Jardan says the jail has seen an increase in the inmate population in May 2012, and began housing inmates in other jails the following month. County Manager Stan Kiser attributthe increase in part at least in part to a provision of the Justice Reinvestment Act, a sweeping reform passed in June 2011 of sentencing and corrections in North Carolina. In part, the act increased the minimum sentences for certain misdemeanors, and those are served in jails rather than state prisons.

"The real increase I saw was after the JRA was passed. It is seriously suspected," he said.

But the county also has seen over a number of years ever-increasing numbers of criminal cases in local courts.

The dockets for Caldwell District Court, which includes traffic offenses and misdemeanor criminal offenses, have risen from an average of 150 cases a day in 2005 to about 300 now, Clerk of Court Kim Clark said. She said the stale economy has been a factor in a couple of ways.

"A lot of people used to pay off their fines, and are now doing active (jail) time" instead of paying the fines, Clarke said. "When they get out of jail, they go back to drugs and drinking and end up back in jail.

"Often, these people are out of work, depressed, or can't provide for their families. Young, out-of-work people may have too much time on their hands."

Whether or not the recent rise in the number of inmates is a temporary spike, Kiser said he hopes the law will be changed to allow jails to send some inmates to state prisons, which he said have room available.

"We're taking a wait-and-see attitude," Kiser said. "We have had discussions on the cost of financing a new facility. If you add 90 beds, you look at not only the cost of construction but also additional officers, and higher fixed costs. It would be shortsighted to start expansion based on the last six months if it is a result of the JRA."