Officials tackling overcrowding problem at Clark County jail

Overcrowding at the county jail means some inmates awaiting trial will get out without paying bail.

The Clark County Commission on Tuesday reviewed the Metropolitan Police Department’s plan to address the problem of overcrowding at Clark County Detention Center facilities, which came in the form of a “depopulation order.”

The new depopulation order, which took effect Tuesday, allows for some nonviolent inmates to be released during the booking process, as long as they meet certain criteria — that the crime was minor and nonviolent, and that the arrestee has had no convictions within the past two years, among other qualifications, said Deputy Chief Rich Suey, who oversees Metro’s detention services division.

The jail’s 4,455 average daily population this month is up more than 20 percent from January, according to a report. The population is growing “at a fairly alarming rate,” County Manager Don Burnette said.

Chief District Judge David Barker signed an order last week that authorized Metro to release inmates who qualify without bail for the next year, or until the jail population dips to 3,336 inmates. The jail has 3,868 beds.

The issue of overcrowding is nothing new to the county. A depopulation order was in place at the jail from 2002 to 2015, but because the jail had about 600 free beds when the order expired, it wasn’t renewed, Suey said.

That order also wasn’t renewed because the district attorney’s office had stopped tracking the number of inmates released as required by the original order, Suey said.

But since November, the valley has seen a surge in violent crime, Suey said. The need for free space at the jail, combined with a dedication to better track who is released, green-lighted the new order.

Several other factors have led to the most recent bout of overcrowding, according to the county’s report.

Many inmates can’t afford to post bail, even though more than 430 inmates have bail amounts of less than $20,000 and likely could get a bond for a couple of thousand dollars.

The county’s presentation also noted that presentence investigation reports are taking an average of 50 days to complete, and the number of inmates waiting for the reports is up 11 percent. The state Division of Parole and Probation prepares such reports, which include sentencing recommendations, after a criminal has been convicted or has pleaded guilty. State law says the reports should be done in 45 days.

Also, jail bookings for felonies are up 18 percent, driving up the average daily population for felonies by 7 percent.

The county’s report attributed this increase in felony arrests to Sheriff Joe Lombardo’s violent crime initiative and the neighborhood engagement team he started in response to the valley’s spike in violent crimes this year.

According to the presentation, the county previously rented beds at city jails to help with overcrowding, but now the return of more than 200 inmates who were being housed in city jails in Las Vegas and Henderson is adding to the problem.

The county stopped renting beds from Las Vegas in January and from Henderson in May, spokesman Dan Kulin said. He said the decision is expected to save the county about $2.8 million a year.

Pretrial inmates with a single nonviolent misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor charge — excluding DUI, violation of a protection order, open and gross lewdness, and weapons charges — will be given first priority for release. After that, inmates facing a single drug charge will be considered for release, followed by people with multiple nonviolent misdemeanor charges and people with multiple drug charges.

Burnette said the focus moving forward should be on whether the right people are occupying jail beds.

“I believe we have a great deal of inmates in our facility that should not be there,” the county manager said.

Since Tuesday, five people who went through booking at the county jail were allowed to leave, Suey said.

“I’m hoping that number increases as we get rolling, but there wasn’t a huge expectation that this was going to solve our problem,” Suey said. “This was just going to help.”

Review-Journal writer Rachel Crosby contributed to this report. Contact Wesley Juhl at wjuhl@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0381. Find @WesJuhl on Twitter. Contact Jamie Munks at jmunks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354. Find @JamieMunksRJ on Twitter.

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