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Aurora

Census may help keep jail population under control



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September 29, 2010 | 08:26 AM
Elkhorn — The nonprofit Pretrial Justice Institute will review Walworth County Jail census data to determine who is in jail, why they're in jail, and what can be done to keep some people out of jail to relieve jail crowding, said Sheriff David Graves.

PJI will use jail data from 2005 to 2009 to figure out exactly who makes up the jail population.

Once that's done, PJI and the county will decide whether it can divert some of that jail population into other programs and free up jail space, Graves said.

The PJI, a nonprofit headquartered in Washington, D.C., was invited to help Walworth County start dealing with its jail crowding issue, said Walworth County Administrator David Bretl. He said two representatives of the PJI met with the County Board's Executive Committee Sept. 22 to discuss the study.

Founded in 1976, the published goal of the PJI is to advocate for fair pretrial practices, to eliminate inappropriate detentions and to divert some people from prosecution, while still maintaining community safety.

The Walworth County Sheriff's Department was awarded a technical assistance grant through the PJI, and the survey is being done at no cost to the county, said Walworth County Jail Administrator Mike Schmitz.

Graves said the jail "is at the end of the conveyor belt" and doesn't have much control over jail intake.

He said the sheriff's department, along with PJI and the County Board's Executive Committee now talking with the District Attorney's office, judges and county board members about county incarceration policies.

"It's not a sheriff problem or a jail problem, it's a justice system problem,' Graves said of the growing numbers of inmates.

The county's Department of Corrections has 323 inmates and a capacity of 512, said Jail Administrator Mike Schmitz. The jail, however, has a capacity of 191, with the rest of the capacity in the Huber dorm, he said.

On Tuesday, 176 people were being held in the jail, Schmitz said. According to Graves, about 57 percent of those in the jail haven't been found guilty of anything, yet. They're arrestees who can't make bail and who are now in pretrial hold. "We know we have an issue on how we handle pretrial inmates," Graves said.

Graves said that the jail is not overcrowded, yet. But the facility does reach 80 percent capacity at times. If the number of people incarcerated continues to grow, the county will have to either add on to the jail or build a new one.

Bretl has shown commitment to finding alternatives to a new jail. The $11 million expenditure for the new facility was shifted from the 2011 capital improvement budget to 2014, although by then, a new facility would likely cost about $14 million.

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