County jail stuffed

Catie Clark

Idaho's prisons are currently at capacity. This problem is also reflected at the county level throughout the state and the Bingham County Jail is no exception. The jail operates at its capacity and given recent trends, the county may soon have more inmates than it can house.
The jail has an official capacity of 102. That number fluctuates on a daily basis and depends in part on the number of convicted offenders, arrests, trial holds, parole holds and state prisoners waiting for transportation to an Idaho Department of Corrections (IDOC) facility. On Thursday, there were 102 inmates: 99 held for felonies and three for misdemeanors.
"No one is there without a good reason," said Craig Rowland, the Bingham County Sheriff. "I'd estimate that around 80 percent are related in some way to drugs." The Sheriff's assessment is despite the county's referral of drug offenders to court-ordered programs for rehabilitation and other intervention methods.
The County takes measures to keep the jail occupancy down with fines and probation for non-violent crimes, and with programs like the pre-trial release program for drug charges. People participating in the program can be tested for further drug used weekly. Other measures can included video-enabled cell phone tracking twice daily or GPS ankle monitors.
"We would have double the people in jail without pre-trial release," Bingham County Prosecutor, Clive Colson, said. "The ones who are in jail had the opportunity for pre-trial release and blew it." The local inmate population is added to by mandatory parole holds ordered by probation officers and by IDOC prisoners that the state has not yet picked up.
"IDOC is slow," Rowland said. Both he and County Commissioner Mark Bair believed that Idaho prison overcrowding was the main reason for state inmates staying overlong in county jails.
The delay in IDOC retrieving its prisoners also loses the Bingham County money. "The state pays us $45 a day to house a state prisoner, but it costs us $80 a day," Rowland explained. "The state is creating a problem for us on a local level … The State of Idaho has got to build another prison."
State inmates may soon cost the County less. Legislation is currently under consideration in Boise that would raise IDOC payments to $55 for the first day and $75 dollars for every day afterward. Though this would penalize the County less for housing state offenders, it still would not help the capacity limitations of the local jail.
If the County has to send its inmates to other facilities to avoid overcrowding, the cost can be prohibitive. "The state pays around $12,000 a month to send a convicted person to a prison out of state," Rowland said. "We used to get paid to house prisoners from counties without jails, but we don't have the room anymore."
The occupancy problem at the jail is projected to get worse. "Bingham County felonies have been going up," said Colson.
"This is not a problem exclusive for Bingham County," Bair remarked.
The increase in the felony crime rate is statewide, according to statistics published by the Idaho State Police. The population of the state is growing and the number of inmates is projected to increase; however, in the short term, the prison and jail capacity to house them is fixed. Every county in Idaho shares in this problem.
"We also need more room in our jail," said Rowland, an assessment shared by Bair. To add 75 beds to the county facility has an estimated price tag of $4.5 million. "Before we can even think of a bond, we first need to find the half-million every year it would take to run an expansion," said Bair. "We know we need to do something soon, but we haven't decided what that solution may be."