BLACKFOOT – Due in part to a methamphetamine epidemic, Bingham County Sheriff Craig Rowland is scrambling to find a place to house the county’s prisoners, and not having much luck.
As of Wednesday morning, Rowland told the county commissioners, the jail built with a capacity to hold 101 inmates was housing 118, and that meant 17 had to sleep on the floor. “I’ve been checking around trying to find a place to put some of them,” he said, “and we’ll be sending four to Madison County today, but that’s the best we’ve been able to do.
“Everybody has the same problem”, Rowland added, “and they don’t have room to take anybody else’s prisoners.”
That includes the Idaho Department of Corrections, he said. “We have eight people here now who have been sentenced to prison by the courts, but the state can’t take them because it doesn’t have the room.” Three more state prisoners are in jail awaiting hearings before the Idaho Parole Commission for violating their parole, he said, but that usually takes up to six months to happen.
Many of the prisoners are drug offenders, including some who have violated their probation and are awaiting disposition of their cases. Others haven’t yet been to court, and some have already entered pleas and are awaiting sentencing.
“We’ve been working with the judges to see if they would lower the bail on some or release them on their own recognizance,” Rowland said.
But even that sometimes exacerbates the problem because some who get released won’t show up for court as scheduled. They get arrested on warrants and their bail is even higher so they still can’t afford to post bond.
If an inmate is arrested for failing to appear on a misdemeanor charge, and there are a couple like that in jail, they have body attachment warrants, meaning no bail will be set for them.
Occasionally they get an inmate who didn’t need to be there, Rowland said. “Just this morning one of my deputies tried to pull a guy over for running a stop sign. All he planned to do was warn him to pay attention, but the guy took off so he had to chase him down.”
The driver went off the road and jumped out of his car and ran, Rowland said. “He didn’t even have a coat on and when my deputy caught him he said he ran because he thought there was a warrant for his arrest, but there wasn’t. Now he’s in jail with a felony eluding charge and felony probation violation and we have someone new to take the place of one of those we’re farming out.”
Rowland said in order for the jail to retain its certification to house prisoners, no inmate can be allowed to sleep on the floor for more than 48 hours. That means they have to be rotated to a bunk periodically and the jail staff gets to choose who sleeps on the floor in one of their boat-like affairs with a mattress in it.
The sheriff said it costs the county $55 per day to house a prisoner in another county, unless it’s a state prisoner — one awaiting transport to state prison — then the state pays. “Bannock County is housing some of its prisoners in Caribou County and it’s costing them a lot of money,” he said
The sheriff said there appears to be only two apparent solutions to the problem: build a bigger jail or somehow convince people to stop committing crimes, especially the drug abusers. “We’ve had a huge jump in arrests because of drug abuse,” he said, “not just taking drugs but for crimes committed because of their drug abuse.”