Crawford County officials continue to look for ways to battle overcrowding and failure to meet state regulations in the county jail.
Crawford County Detention Center has again failed an inspection by a panel of Crawford County residents appointed by the state. The Criminal Detention Facilities Review Committee cited the jail for, among other things, chronic overcrowding, under-staffing, improper inmate segregation and inadequate space.
While the jail has been put on probation numerous time, and in fact has been on continuous probation since November 2011, the consequences may be more serious this time around.
According to a letter sent to Crawford County Judge John Hall from the review committee, county officials must prepare a written plan to resolve the identified issues to meet state jail standards.
If they fail to do so, the panel will ask that the jail be voluntarily closed or will proceed with a lawsuit to close the jail, according to the letter. The jail is set to be re-inspected for updates in three months.
Crawford County Justices of the Peace met Thursday night as part of the Jail Committee to look over the inspection and hear from Sheriff Ron Brown on suggestions to alleviate the problem.
Justice of the Peace Lloyd Cole, head of the Jail Committee, presented the inspection results.
"It basically just pointed out that we’re still too small for our population and it’s going to stay that way until we decide to build a bigger jail," Cole said.
Brown told JPs that one of the inspectors wanted to close the jail immediately, but that the motion was not met with support.
"They gave us the six-month probation instead and are trying to work with us on this," Brown said.
When asked by JP Cathy Gifford about what would happen if the jail is closed, Brown answered, "I don’t know; I just really don’t know."
Brown laid out a plan that, at least for the moment, would allow the jail to comply with the panel’s requests. His plan requires moving more inmates to outside detention facilities such as Washington County, and requesting more money from the Crawford County Quorum Court for housing and transportation.
"The only quick, temporary fix I have for this is to aggressively start segregating [inmates]," Brown told JPs.
While the population of the jail has been maintained for the most part at or below the maximum of 88, done so by housing prisoners in outside facilities and expediting court proceedings, it can still be considered overcrowded when not properly segregated, Brown said.
Prisoners must be segregated by gender, pre- and post-trial, and sexual offenders must be kept isolated, Brown said.
He added that outside jails won’t take "problem" inmates, such as prisoners who are disorderly or have special diet, medical or physical needs, he said.
About 30 inmates already are being housed in other facilities, Cole said. The cost for housing one inmate each day at Washington County Detention Center is $35, Cole said.
Brown went on to say that criminals in the area have learned that the jail can no longer hold everyone who is arrested, and that if their crime is a misdemeanor, they won’t face any jail time. Even repeat offenders are "cut loose," to keep the jail population manageable, he said.
"We’ve shielded this [jail problem] from the public," Brown said. "We’ve tried to make it work; we wanted to make it work. But now it’s a public safety issue."
Cole noted that the overcrowding problem has been going on since 1993, and called on JPs to make a decision to resolve the issue.
While the need for a new jail was expressed by Cole, Brown and Hall, Hall told JPs it was their job to find a way to pay for it.
"There’s three legs of a stool when it comes to this," Hall said, referring the state inspection. "When it talks about chronic overcrowding, that’s mine - I’m responsible for that. When it comes to staffing and segregation, that’s the sheriff’s responsibility. When it talks about the third leg of the stool, that’s you all; the Quorum Court is responsible for funding."
In the meantime, Brown said he will do what he can to comply with state regulation through the means provided him, that being outside housing, while still trying to keep costs down for the county.
"Whatever [inmates] I can keep and stay in compliance, that’s what I’m going to do," Brown said.
Brown plans to request additional money for housing and transportation at the Quorum Court meeting Aug. 19.