Arresting and booking a misdemeanor offender in jail isn’t always the only choice for Metro officers. They have the discretion to write a citation and cut the defendant loose with a court date instead of a trip to the Clark County Detention Center for a mug shot and blue jumpsuit.
That’s one tool for keeping the growing inmate population from expanding even more at the financially strapped jail, Clark County commissioners were told Tuesday. County officials will create a committee to look at the growing inmate population of the jail, which has a deficit projected at $27.6 million for this fiscal year.
Commissioners heard a presentation from Deputy Chief Todd Fasulo of the Metropolitan Police Department, who oversees the jail operation. The committee will look at short-term and long-term ideas during the next several months, and make recommendations early next year to commissioners.
“Our population is at an all-time high,” Fasulo told commissioners.
The detention center typically has about 4,000 inmates in custody on any given day, which includes those at the North Valley Complex. Much of the problem is due to increased lengths of stays at the detention center, not more arrests.
Data show that bookings have decreased in the past year, while the population has increased. In July, the bookings numbered 5,024, while the bookings in July 2013 were 6,167.
In the past three years, average jail stays have increased from 18 days to 22 days.
The impacts extend beyond the reduced ability to arrest on misdemeanors. There are more lockdowns for inmates because of limited jail staffing, something Fasulo said he doesn’t want, calling it an “unhealthy environment.”
The center’s expenses include $5 million over budget on overtime costs, and $1.5 million for a radio system upgrade that will help the detention center when it transports about 600 inmates a day.
Space for further growth is limited. The county rents jail space from the cities of Las Vegas and Henderson, but there’s little room for renting more beds, Fasulo said.
Part of the overtime issues is because 450 inmates were displaced to the North Valley Complex during a renovation of the north tower of the detention center.
“It’s hard to push that overtime down,” Fasulo said.
Commissioner Susan Brager said it’s important to look at issues such as if the county wants to jail youthful first-time offenders who make a stupid mistake.
The committee will work with an eye toward getting recommendations ready early next year, when officials start planning the next budget, which starts July 1.
“Over the next couple years, we really need to get a handle on the situation,” County Manager Don Burnette said.
Last year, the detention center’s inmate population soared in part because of delays in getting pre-sentence reports finished by the state Division of Parole and Probation within the legally required 45-day window. Those reports are used by judges for sentencing after a conviction or guilty plea. The state has hired more report writers, which has helped that problem, Fasulo said, noting that there’s still a lag until the system catches up.
The committee’s membership will include judges from the court system and representatives from the Clark County district attorney’s office, the Clark County public defender’s office and Metro.
Contact Ben Botkin at email@example.com or 702-405-9781. Find him on Twitter: @BenBotkin1.