With 1,180 inmates the county has struggled to find ways to reduce costs and are now trying to find ways to reduce the jail population, even as this conflicts with contracts which require the private run jail to be filled at various capacities.
County Judge Matt Johnson is now proposing a "rocket docket' which would help speed up the rate at which the inmate who have been there the longest are prosecuted. About 90 people have been in jail for over a year awaiting trial. Officials also hope this will force some inmates to quit using stall tactics and accept plea deals.
The new proposal would increase trials on various weeks from two or three to roughly seven. This of course means more jury summons as well, as District Clerk Karen Matkins expects a rise of jurors called each week from 600 to 850. That means higher jury costs and more people missing work, an effective drain on the local economy.
The District Attorney's office is on board with the plan, even as they expect it to increase the office's workload.
Could the county be overlooking other ways to decrease the amount of inmates and the costs associated with incarceration? Of course it doesn't help that officers go after people for petty drug crimes, even those with less than a gram of an illegal substance. Some of those inmates then go on to have health problems, which the county then has to not only pay for, but pay deputies to escort the inmate to the doctor.
An overlooked cite and release law which allows officers to have discretion when they come in contact with people who have drugs, means they could write a summons and release that person without taking them to jail, saving a deputy three to four hours of paperwork and overtime. Many county officials are unaware of the law while others ignore it. Does a person possessing a small amount of drugs necessarily mean they are a danger to society and must sit in jail while the tax payers foot the bill?
Another option is to increase the use of ankle monitors for those who are a higher risk. Already this year the use of such monitors has saved the county $600,000.
With the current rates of arrests, if everyone decided to refuse a plea deal and demand a trial, it would take three times as long as it currently does to prosecute every case, effectively making it impossible to do so without spending even more money. One such route District Attorney Abel Reyna could take is to start offering better plea deals, especially to people who have been charged in a non-violent crime.
Better plea deals which work out to probation and/or community service is more ideal as it saves the county money, increases the manpower available for community works, and gives people an incentive to be more cooperative.
In times of tough economic situations, raising taxes and hindering the workforce will only compound the problem.