State Law Changes Could Increase Polk Jail Population

Posted: February 6, 2013 in News and politics

County Manager Jim Freeman said the law change would shift the burden of housing some inmates to county jails.

      By     THE LEDGER
Published: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 at 11:57 p.m.

This is the common area of the dorms reserved for juveniles at the Polk County Jail.

BARTOW | Polk County officials vowed to challenge potential changes to state law they argue could overcrowd the jail and increase the cost of housing inmates by millions.

One change, proposed by the Florida Department of Corrections, would require county jails to house inmates who would have otherwise served their sentences in state prison.

Another would limit the county’s pretrial release program to only indigent defendants.

Discussion of the possible legislation took up much of the agenda of the Public Safety Coordinating Council meeting in Bartow on Monday.

The council, made up of county officials and members of local criminal justice agencies, monitors programs designed to curb jail overcrowding. It has met less frequently in recent years as jail overcrowding has become less of a problem in Polk. But some members warned Monday that the potential laws could change that.

The jail held 2,443 inmates Monday. If either change becomes a law, according to council members, it could push the jail over its 2,576 capacity.

County Manager Jim Freeman told the council the state DOC has suggested a law change that would shift the burden of housing some inmates to county jails.

Currently, offenders sentenced to more than a year are sent to state prison — even if credit they receive for time served shortens their sentence to less than a year and a day.

The suggested change would require county jails to house offenders sentenced to more than a year if their credit for time served reduces their sentence to less than a year and a day, according to Freeman.

The state says it would save about $75 million in the change, Freeman said, but he argued it would only shift the cost to counties.

Freeman said if the change happened immediately, the county jail would have to add about 300 more inmates. It would cost the county $7.5 million annually to house them.

The larger population would require the county to build an estimated $20 million expansion of the jail sooner than planned, he said.

“It’s something everyone should oppose,” Freeman said.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, who did not attend the meeting but is familiar with the issue, said lawmakers have told the Florida Sheriff’s Association “there is no energy in the legislature to move forward” with that proposed change.

The other change — limiting the pretrial release program to indigent inmates only — could increase the inmate population size and, consequently, hurt the county budget, Nick Sudzina, court administrator, told the council members.

Pretrial release program allows some defendants to be released from jail before their court date and remain under monitoring that includes visits from program staff members and drug testing.

“We shouldn’t limit that to someone’s socio-economic status,” Sudzina said after the meeting.

 

[ Matthew Pleasant can be reached at matthew.pleasant@theledger.com or 863-802- 7590. ]

<!–BARTOW | Polk County officials vowed to challenge potential changes to state law they argue could overcrowd the jail and increase the cost of housing inmates by millions.

One change, proposed by the Florida Department of Corrections, would require county jails to house inmates who would have otherwise served their sentences in state prison.

Another would limit the county's pretrial release program to only indigent defendants.

Discussion of the possible legislation took up much of the agenda of the Public Safety Coordinating Council meeting in Bartow on Monday.

The council, made up of county officials and members of local criminal justice agencies, monitors programs designed to curb jail overcrowding. It has met less frequently in recent years as jail overcrowding has become less of a problem in Polk. But some members warned Monday that the potential laws could change that.

The jail held 2,443 inmates Monday. If either change becomes a law, according to council members, it could push the jail over its 2,576 capacity.

County Manager Jim Freeman told the council the state DOC has suggested a law change that would shift the burden of housing some inmates to county jails.

Currently, offenders sentenced to more than a year are sent to state prison — even if credit they receive for time served shortens their sentence to less than a year and a day.

The suggested change would require county jails to house offenders sentenced to more than a year if their credit for time served reduces their sentence to less than a year and a day, according to Freeman.

The state says it would save about $75 million in the change, Freeman said, but he argued it would only shift the cost to counties.

Freeman said if the change happened immediately, the county jail would have to add about 300 more inmates. It would cost the county $7.5 million annually to house them.

The larger population would require the county to build an estimated $20 million expansion of the jail sooner than planned, he said.

"It's something everyone should oppose," Freeman said.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, who did not attend the meeting but is familiar with the issue, said lawmakers have told the Florida Sheriff's Association "there is no energy in the legislature to move forward" with that proposed change.

The other change — limiting the pretrial release program to indigent inmates only — could increase the inmate population size and, consequently, hurt the county budget, Nick Sudzina, court administrator, told the council members.

Pretrial release program allows some defendants to be released from jail before their court date and remain under monitoring that includes visits from program staff members and drug testing.

"We shouldn't limit that to someone's socio-economic status," Sudzina said after the meeting.

 

[ Matthew Pleasant can be reached at matthew.pleasant@theledger.com or 863-802- 7590. ]

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