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Stopgap measures ease overcrowding at Washington County jail

July 14, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY - A temporary housing unit needed to ease overcrowding at Washington County Detention Center will not be built until next year, according to Sheriff Douglas W. Mullendore.

In the meantime, the Washington County Sheriff's Department is considering other ways to free up space at the jail, including the creation of a day-reporting program for some first-time drug and alcohol offenders.

"We are looking at alternatives. We have to do something to make room for inmates," Mullendore said.

The current jail, which was built in 1984, has 345 beds. It is regularly 60 to 80 inmates over capacity, Mullendore said. As a result, some inmates sleep on bunks in open areas of the jail.

The sheriff's department hoped to install a temporary, prefabricated addition this year that would add 96 beds to the jail.

Mullendore requested funding for the addition in this year's capital improvement budget, but the budget approved by the Washington County Commissioners splits funding for the $2.7 million temporary unit over fiscal year 2009, which started July 1, and fiscal 2010.

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The site for the structure, which is adjacent to the existing jail, likely will be cleared to make room for the addition before July 1, 2009.

The housing unit will be installed later that year, Mullendore said.

The county commissioners approved funding in the fiscal 2009 general fund budget for 11 new deputies to staff the temporary housing unit.

The sheriff's department is working now to hire those deputies and will use them in the current jail until the temporary facility is opened, Mullendore said.

The county plans a permanent expansion to the jail by using the former Phoenix Color building on Tandy Drive.

The commissioners voted in September 2007 to buy the 83,500-square-foot building, which is directly behind the jail, for $5 million.

The county has budgeted $39 million, much of which will be funded with state and federal grants, to convert the former Phoenix Color building into an expansion for the jail in fiscal years 2015 through 2017.

The sheriff's department is using the former Phoenix Color building now to store equipment, Mullendore said.

The Phoenix Color expansion could add 250 beds to the jail, according to plans prepared last year by Bushey Feight Morin Architects Inc., although the number of inmates could vary depending on how the expansion is designed.

To ease overcrowding now, Mullendore said last week that the sheriff's department is considering a program that would allow first-time drug and alcohol offenders to enroll in treatment and education programs without serving time at the jail.

Offenders would report to a separate facility and be under "strict monitoring," but would not be incarcerated, Mullendore said.

The program would be operated by the sheriff's department, Washington County district and circuit courts, and the Division of Parole and Probation, Mullendore said.

"This is something I've been looking at for a while, and I think its time has come," Mullendore said.

About 15 percent of the jail's population at any given time is made up of first- and second-time drug offenders.

Mullendore said some of those inmates might be better served in the general population, where they could work, take drug and alcohol education classes, and go to treatment.

"A lot of first-time offenders are not in jail long enough to participate in our in-house treatment programs," Mullendore said.

Mullendore said sheriff's department officials will meet at the end of this month to talk more about the idea.

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