It may be possible to squeeze 126 people into a 98-bed jail. But it would be dangerous — and illegal.
So officials are being creative in finding ways to make best use of the available space at the Hancock County Justice Center as they work to reduce the backlog of offenders waiting to serve their time.
We’re glad they’re starting to tackle the problem.
A Courier story earlier this month pointed out the fact that many people facing jail terms are being turned away when they report to the jail, primarily because there is no place to put them. Some have tried repeatedly, only to be told to try again later.
An analysis of court records found 27 men and 45 women had totaled 174 rejections from Jan. 1 through June 17.
Since the story appeared, efforts have been made to accommodate those whose lives can be disrupted as they wait for a jail vacancy. While at least 28 people are still on a waiting list, one woman, who had shown up 18 times only to be turned away each time, was recently accepted on her 19th attempt.
The city and county have finally hammered out a new jail contract which includes a provision that the city will pay the county’s cost of transporting prisoners convicted under city code to another jail if Hancock County’s jail is full.
Jail administrators say they’re working on an agreement now with Putnam County to take Hancock County’s overload.
They have also started a closer monitoring of the cases of those who have been turned away. That tracking process should help identify people who have trying the longest to get into jail. If nothing else, those people should be moved to the top of the list.
Other things could be making a difference as well. Judges are now issuing orders on sentencing commitments that require the jail to accept certain convicts when they report, regardless of how full the jail is.
That forces jail administrators to constantly review who they are holding in the jail, and for how long.
The issue is about more than supply and demand.
Those who are ordered to a jail term have been convicted of a crime or traffic offense, but still have a right to know that they will be able to pay their debt to society in a timely fashion. Continuing a jail term indefinitely may not be cruel and unusual punishment, but it can be disruptive to someone who is attempting to get their affairs in order after a brush with the law.
Dedicating more cell blocks to female prisoners may have to be done regularly to accommodate the growing number of women receiving jail time. And, unfortunately, the county may have to rely on other jails to house some of its inmates for the first time since 2007. That won’t happen without considerable cost.
While the measures noted above may address the problem in the short term, jail beds are likely to be in short supply for a long time.
Officials must continue to search for ways to house those who must serve mandatory jail terms at the lowest possible cost. That won’t be an easy task, but an important one.
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