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Published: Wednesday, 10/18/2006

Sheriff aims to fix swelling jail count

BY BENJAMIN ALEXANDER-BLOCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE - County Sheriff Tilman Crutchfield will announce tomorrow whether steps to alleviate jail overcrowding over the past 10 days have been successful.

Monroe County judges have been giving early releases to inmates to reduce overcrowding. They have also been taking more inmates than usual out of jail and placing them in programs offered by the Community Corrections Program.

And for a long-term solution to jail overcrowding, Sheriff Crutchfield said he and his staff are preparing for a meeting with the county board of commissioners to pitch a possible $3.5 million expansion of the Monroe County Inmate Dormitory Facility on Dunbar Road in Monroe Township.

The state's County Jail Services unit conducted an inspection of the county's jails on Sept. 14 at which time it determined that the county's inmate population exceeded 100 percent of its design capacity.

Sheriff Crutchfield declared an "overcrowding state of emergency" on Oct. 6. According to state statute, the jail must reduce the jail population by tomorrow, which is 14 days after the "overcrowding state of emergency" was declared.

Sheriff Crutchfield said that it is necessary to reduce the population of the county jail by 38 inmates.

"I am going to wait until [tomorrow] to announce whether the overcrowding emergency has ended, because we have inmates coming and going every day and so these numbers fluctuate daily," Sheriff Crutchfield said. "I just want to make sure the problem is really over before I declare the emergency resolved."

County Jail Administrator Daniel Motylinski said the jail population fluctuates anywhere between 20 and 50 inmates each week and that Thursday and Friday are especially volatile because those are the days judges give out the most sentences.

If Sheriff Crutchfield does not declare the overcrowding emergency resolved tomorrow, the county has 14 more days to reduce the inmate population. During these two weeks, state law would require judges to reduce sentences of county inmates, by no more than 30 percent, to alleviate jail crowding.

According to Chief Judge Michael LaBeau of the Monroe County Circuit Court and Chief Judge Jack Vitale of the Monroe County District Court, all of the prisoners they will have released by tomorrow would have been freed within the next few weeks anyway, and all of these released inmates are nonviolent offenders who "do not pose a threat to the community."

"We have looked at each individual case and determined whether they are a threat to society," Judge LaBeau said. "Many of these people are a threat to themselves and not to others."

Judge Labeau said jail crowding is a result of the courts' receiving many more cases each month, about 12 felonies, than the circuit court had a year ago.

Because of this influx, he said he is "just about out of court-appointed attorney money to get though the year." He said he is asking the board of commissioners for more money.

Sheriff Crutchfield said there have been many more assaults in the county, especially domestic violence cases, over the past few months than previously.

"We are getting those on a daily basis now," he said. "That's where we have seen the increase."

Judge Vitale said he has done his part to alleviate overpopulation by releasing some inmates to community corrections programs, such as in-patient drug and alcohol treatment facilities, alternative work services programs, and monitored residential housing facilities in the community.

Since September, 2005, individuals have spent about 29,500 days in corrections programs in lieu of county jail, according to Lucy DeSilvis, the program's coordinator.

Built in 1981 for $11.2 million, the Monroe County jail's 127 beds were supposed to handle the county's incarceration needs for 25 years. But by 1989, it was crowded.

As a temporary solution, the county outsourced inmates to other facilities. At $35 a day, the county was soon paying about $500,000 a year.

In the spring of 1997, Sheriff Crutchfield obtained a grant from the State of Michigan for $111,000 to double-bunk some of the cells. That enabled the jail to house 183 inmates.

In June, 1999, Monroe County bought 155 acres of land on East Dunbar Road in Monroe Township for the construction of a new and larger jail. This $7.5 million 160-bed jail opened in November, 2000.

About half of the beds there are contractually committed for use by detainees of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The INS pays the county about $70 a day for each detainee, or about $2 million a year.

Sheriff Crutchfield said there is land available to expand this new dormitory by about 160 beds and that this is the "only practical, long-term solution to inmate overpopulation."

Since the construction of this second jail in 2000, the population of the county has risen by 6.7 percent, according to 2006 estimates from the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments.

Contact Benjamin Alexander-Bloch

at babloch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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