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Yuma County jail in need of more funding
Despite having built the new 81-bed jail annex last year, the Yuma County jail is operating at full capacity - not because there are too many inmates, but because there aren't enough detention officers.
"Several years ago we ended up in a situation where we didn't have the jail space, but we had the people to handle it," said Yuma County Sheriff Ralph Ogden. "Now we have the new jail space ready to go, we just don't have the funding to hire the people to make it work."
Ogden explained that cells at the new jail annex currently sit empty because he doesn't have the money in his budget to hire the 19 additional personnel he needs to staff it and begin using it.
The Yuma County jail has a total capacity of 675 inmates and is currently averaging about 672 inmates a day. Last month, however, the jail was averaging over 700 inmates a day, including having as many as 720 on one day.
"We have been double-bunking in some of the dormitories to help keep our costs down," Ogden said.
Of those 672 inmates, only about a third are actually serving sentences. The rest are either involved in a case or awaiting sentencing, after which they are often sent to a state prison.
The problem, Ogden said, is that more inmates are being kept in jail for longer periods of times than ever before. The other problem is the downturn in the economy has taken a toll on the jail financially.
Ogden explained the jail district is funded in two ways, through the county's general fund and the sales tax. Both of which have been in decline in recent years due to the downturn in the economy and have had a tremendous effect on the jail's long-term revenue.
"It's kind of a double-edged sword all the way around. We need to find a way to reduce the number of people being booked into the jail and figure out a way to keep them here for less time and still stay within our financial guidelines."
It costs $78 a day to house an inmate at the county jail. So an inmate serving a 30-day sentence would cost taxpayers $2,500. A yearlong sentence would run $28,000.
Because revenues are down, Ogden said, the jail is now having to dip into its reserve funds to cover its costs and make up the difference in the revenue it has lost.
"We have always been ahead of the curve until the economy went upside down. Things are pretty desperate now, and we need to do something for the immediate future and plan for the long term."
The sheriff said he has been meeting with other members of the criminal justice system, such as Superior Court judges, justices of the peace, Municipal Court judges and law enforcement officers to hammer out some solutions and possible options to the problem.
"We need to evaluate from the time a person is arrested until the time the person is sentenced and gets out of jail," Ogden said.
"We just need to do it in a way the community is safe and the right person is in jail."
Among some of the options being discussed is having officers give citations, which are essentially notices to appear in court, instead of arresting for certain low-level, nonviolent misdemeanors.
Other options include judges using pretrial services more to vet low-level offenders for release on personal bonds. Another possibility is immediate sentencing dates for probation violations.
He said he also plans to meet with the probation office next week.
"They all realize this is a problem and are looking to see if there is something they can do differently."
Ogden said no matter how fervent you are about law and order, some people just don’t need to be taking up precious space in county jail, especially when it’s packed full and there isn't the money to keep them there.
"Our society as a whole has a tendency to want to put people in jail for two reasons. One reason is because they need to be there and the second reason is we want them there."