Officials are pointing to a significant budget casualty as a leading cause of a jail overcrowding emergency — the Oakland County Jail’s first since October 2007 — that is expected to lead to the early release of as many as 227 inmates in the coming weeks and months from the facility that experienced a rash of similar situations between 2005 and 2007.
A formal jail overcrowding emergency was declared on March 2. Such an emergency is declared when the jail’s inmate population exceeds capacity for seven consecutive days. By Friday, March 16, the county was required to do “whatever it can within legal means to reduce the jail population to (25 inmates) below capacity,” said Oakland County Circuit Court Administrator Kevin Oeffner.
That effort was apparently unsuccessful. On March 16, a 14-day window began during which Oakland County Circuit Court Chief Judge Nanci J. Grant was required to determine, of all sentenced inmates, “which ones do not present a high risk to the public safety.”
“She then has to develop that list and the (state) statute says that, in addition to developing that list, determine the sentence reduction percentages, establishing a minimum and maximum percentage by which (those inmates’) sentences can be reduced.”
Under state law, Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard then has to pick a percentage within those parameters by which the inmates’ sentences will be reduced.
Oeffner said there were nine jail overcrowding emergencies that took place between 2005 and 2007. Thousands of non-violent inmates at the Oakland County Jail had their sentences reduced because of such emergencies.
The inmates scheduled to receive sentence reductions this time around include those sentenced for both misdemeanors and felonies, but not anyone sentenced for assaultive or drunk driving offenses.
In addition, inmates were screened for pending warrants out of other counties, as well as parole violations in other jurisdictions.
Undersheriff Mike McCabe said a budget cut of over $16 million prompted a work release program that averaged about 150 participating inmates to be reconfigured into a virtual work release program.
“A tether tracks an inmate on a GPS system and a radio frequency system,” McCabe said. “The problem that has occurred is that where we used to have 150 inmates (in the work release program), we only have about 50 now. For whatever reason, the judges don’t like the program (and don’t sentence offenders to it). You’ve got 100 people in the jail now that used to be out working.”
He said on Monday, March 19 that the jail’s population levels are doing better.
“Our population is down dramatically today,” he said, adding that approximately 80 inmates were released over the weekend. “The population is in good shape.”
During the rash of jail overcrowding emergencies between 2005 and 2007, discussions had taken place about the feasibility of constructing a new, larger Oakland County Jail.
However, Oakland County Board of Commissioners Chairman Mike Gingell (R-Lake Orion) said there is “nothing on the radar” similar to that in light of this most recent overcrowding emergency.
“We’re just not in a position to even be considering those types of expenses, not only the capital expense (of constructing a new jail or expanding the existing one), but the ongoing operating expense, as well,” Gingell said.