A new group is looking at ways to solve the ongoing jail overpopulation problem at the Saline County Jail.
Saline County Chairman Monte Shadwick summed up the first of two meetings looking at reducing the number of inmates in jail as being “light years different from last” year’s efforts. Shadwick and Commissioner Robert Vidricksen were among 32 invited guests who met with specialists to discuss options for Saline County’s jail.
A second meeting is planned for Friday, May 12th. Since the meeting will not be open to the public, only two County Commissioners will attend (to be in compliance with the State’s Open Meeting Act). It was reported that at least one judge, the Sheriff and Undersheriff, the County Attorney and other agency representatives attended the first meeting. Both meetings have been designed to allow those in attendance to “have freedom to dialog”, without media coverage.
A consultant, who was only identified by the last name “Beck” led the first meeting. Also in attendance were representatives from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, who reportedly have fully implemented Beck’s recommendations. On the day of the first meeting, Saline County’s Jail had a total census of 295 inmates; Douglas County is twice as large as Saline County and either 140 or 180 were being held in its jail. A jail in Oskaloosa Florida was on track to having 800 inmates; after taking action, that jail now has 235 inmates.
Shadwick said presenters addressed many of the frequently spoken concerns about “where will the money come from” and “not everyone can be let out of jail”. He said that under the plan being discussed, “bad people will still be in jail”. What might change is pre-trial sentencing, bonding and the increased use of monitoring devices.
It was said that currently in Douglas County, the system is set up to book an individual and release them in 24 hours; in Saline County that process may take 3 to 4 days. Vidricksen relayed a story about how a true “thug” had been arrested and placed in jail; the next day, the “thug’s buddies” paid $50,000 in cash to post the inmate’s bond and the “thug” left the area. For another arrestee, a $50 bond may be out of financial reach and he may wait 2 to 3 weeks before he sees a judge. Shadwick reported that the “statistics are the same for those who put up bail and those who don’t” as to who will appear in court. There was another comment that “bond is not a deterrent”.
The proposed monitoring systems include ankle bracelets that are sophisticated enough to know if the wearer strays from an approved route to go to work. Wearers also can’t use certain “shampoos and mouthwashes” as the bracelets detect alcohol in these products. In the plan discussed, the wearer will pay the $12/day cost for monitoring. Shadwick said that the wearers can then “keep their jobs, pay taxes, and pay for their own medical care.” Shadwick said the savings go well beyond the often quoted $35/day contract housing costs. Paying inmate medical costs are a significant expense in the County’s budget.
Beck is reported as saying “the County is already spending the money” on jailing inmates. Shadwick said he was all for punishment appropriate to the offense, but asked “why are we picking the most expensive form” of punishment.
Commissioner Jim Weese asked if there was a need for “an additional prosecutor and judge”.
Noting that there are costs to bringing in consultants, Shadwick expressed confidence that part of the costs could be paid for by a grant.
Shadwick said that “at some point, there will be public discussion” on any proposed plan. Vidricksen said that based on the first meeting, he was ready “to sign” Beck “up that day”.]