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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Press-Tribune Counts the Inmates at Overcrowded Canyon County Jail

Posted By on Sun, Sep 28, 2014 at 11:00 AM

A year ago, Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue said he had nightmares about certain inmates having to be released from his overcrowded jail. Additionally, he said his county was open to lawsuits because of his jail's deteriorating condition. And earlier this year, Donahue said there were so many female inmates at the jail that early releases were necessary to ease the overcrowding.

And now, this morning's Idaho Press-Tribune reports that only about a third of the people behind bars had been charged with violent offenses. The Press-Tribune drilled into a one-day snapshot of the jail, choosing Wednesday, Sept. 10, as their test case. And in those numbers, they found that 126 inmates had been charged or convicted of violent offenses while 236 had been charged or convicted of nonviolent offenses. 

"One way to save both money and space in the jail, Canyon County Prosecuting Attorney Bryan Taylor said, is to take a closer look at whom we're locking up," writes the Press-Tribune's John Funk.

And what that means is a very specific pretrial risk assessment where inmates are scored on 10 questions. Those questions include:
- Is the suspect unemployed?
- Is the charge a felony?
- Does the suspect have prior convictions?
- Has the suspect lived in the local area for less than a year?
- Does the suspect have a history with drug or alcohol use?

Individuals who score zero may be eligible for release, pending their court date.

Other options might include house arrest or monitoring of ankle bracelets. And then there's the Sheriff's Inmate Labor Detail, but that became the subject of a very public debate between Donahue and Canyon County commissioners earlier this year, when Donahue said he didn't have adequate staff to police the jail and the labor detail at the same time.

In March 2013, Donahue said he envisioned a mega-jail to serve not only his county but surrounding counties as well, but that idea has received little traction.

“That building—that jail—is the greatest exposed liability for the entire county. Period,” Donahue told the Press-Tribune. “There’s nothing else that matches that exposed liability to the taxpayer.”

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