More inmates putting a strain on county jail

MARSHALL CO. — A high jail population is costing more taxpayer dollars.
As a result, Marshall County Sheriff Tom Chamberlin requested one additional appropriation and two transfers in the total amount of $36,215 at Monday night’s Marshall County Council meeting.
The extra funds are needed for prisoner meals ($17,000), fuel costs and vehicle maintenance for the sheriff’s department ($15,715), and prisoner supplies ($3,500).
“We have 155 inmates currently in the jail,” said Chamberlin.
According to Chamberlin, that’s about 40 percent higher than the beginning of 2012.
To help stem costs, the jail has been selling additional meals for more than a year at $2.50 a piece. That money is then returned into the commissary fund.
He added that prisoner supplies purchased will include mats and uniforms for inmates.
Chamberlin said in an interview later that his department has seen an increase in thefts and meth-related arrests recently.
“For the thefts, some of that could be related to the economy,” said Chamberlin. “We’ve seen an increase in…shoplifting, but not necessarily useful items. It’s not like (individuals) are stealing food to survive, it’s that they are stealing things that they can turn around and sell.”
In relation to meth-related crimes, Chamberlin said that more people are being charged because meth labs usually involve a network of people.
“Several of these people have previous convictions or other charges, so their bond has been set at a higher level,” explained Chamberlin. “The average stay of inmates is getting longer. It used to be that an average stay was 18 days, but now it’s in the high 20s.”
He said that the jail currently has 31 inmates that have been incarcerated for 91-100 days, 12 that have been incarcerated for 181-270 days, three for 271-365 days, and two inmates that have been at the jail for longer than a year.
“The positive side of this is that these people are not out committing more crimes,” said Chamberlin.
The Marshall County Jail can hold, at max capacity, 250 inmates.
“That would be utilizing every inch,” said Chamberlin.
Council president Matt Hassel mentioned in the meeting that fewer prisoners are able to pay for their own attorney. As a result, council members had to appropriate $10,000 additional for pauper counsel in Monday’s meeting. Hassel said later that the council has raised the amount of pauper council for the last three years in a row.
Chamberlin said that he believes prisoners are unable to hire their own attorney because a increasing percentage of those incarcerated are unemployed.
Prosecutor Dave Holmes said that his office is prosecuting more cases now than ever before, and just hired a third full-time deputy prosecutor.
“We have somewhat of a backlog of cases, we have jury trials set out until June,” said Holmes. “But we are making every effort to get things moving and try to get the backlog cleared.”
Holmes said that if an individual claims they need a court-appointed attorney, they must prove to a judge that they don’t have the funds to hire their own counsel.
“Considering the kind of people you are dealing with, it’s not unusual for them to claim they don’t have money to pay an attorney,” said Holmes. “ In Superior Court II, traffic and misdemeanor cases, the percentage (of individuals who cannot afford an attorney) is much smaller, but in Superior Court I, where the felony cases go, there is probably a higher percentage. Typically, the defendants in those cases don’t have much in the way of resources or they wouldn’t be doing what they are doing.”
Holmes said that he believes the higher numbers of inmates has a direct correlation with the drug problem in the area.
“(Meth) is highly addictive and destroys lives,” said Holmes. “We have a real problem with meth in this area.”
In other business, Highway Department superintendent Neal Haeck and Commissioner Kevin Overmyer requested a change to highway department employee’s compensation time. Currently, employees are allowed 40 hours of compensation time per year. Haeck and Overmyer asked to raise that to 80 hours.
“This could save the county a lot of money (in paying overtime),” pointed out Haeck.
“Employees could take time off when we are not as busy. It helps out newer employees who don’t have much vacation time. It gives them the opportunity to bank hours during the winter and take some time off in the summer.”
Overmyer added that employees would still have the option to take overtime instead of banking hours.
After discussion, the council agreed to approve the request. The new compensation time policy will begin January 2013.