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Jefferson County uses alternatives to reduce jail crowding

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With the inmate overcrowding debate simmering in the background, the Probation Department quietly saved Jefferson County nearly $2.6 million last year by keeping people out of jail, according to Probation Director Edward E. Brown.

The department’s alternatives-to-incarceration programs play an important role in keeping nonviolent offenders out of the county’s maxed-out facility.

In 2012, pretrial services screened 1,424 people and conducted lengthy interviews with 646 people before eventually selecting 392 to be released under supervision, according to Probation Officer Jamie L. Augustine.

According to Jefferson County Sheriff John P. Burns, 75 percent of the jail’s population is unsentenced.

Many of those people can’t afford bail or bond, Mr. Brown said.

If they are not violent or a flight risk, pretrial services allow them to get back to their jobs and families and allow those struggling with alcohol or drug addiction to get the treatment they need, he said.

Individuals in the program must meet certain reporting requirements and may be placed in the “enhanced” pretrial release program, which can include more frequent reporting as well as the mandatory wearing of GPS-enabled tracking bracelets or the use of a wireless blood alcohol-testing unit.

Time spent in pretrial services does not count toward a person’s sentence.

Apart from the alternatives to incarceration programs, there are 800 to 900 people on probation at any given time.

“Probation in itself is an alternative to incarceration,” Mr. Brown said. “There are more people in probation than any other disposition.”

“Because of jail overcrowding, we’re getting more individuals who would have been sent to jail,” he said.

If offenders sentenced to probation fail to cooperate with their program’s terms, they can end up facing their original sentence with no credit for time served.

The department also helps by preparing reports that give courts detailed information about individuals, including past legal history, drug and alcohol problems, family and medical history, military service and employment history. The reports also include statements from the individuals, assessments of their risk of offending again and recommendations to the court about how they should be handled.

The jail, which the county is required by law to operate, can house 144 inmates. The cost to the county averages $124 per inmate per day — about $6.5 million per year.

Inmates are housed in three pods. Pods 1 and 2 are composed of two 32-inmate units housing minor inmates ages 16 to 18, higher-risk category inmates and general population. Pod 3 consists of a 32-inmate unit housing women and inmate workers and an indoor recreation area.

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