Undersheriff says 2016 annual report shows overcrowding threatening jail safety, re-entry programming

Douglas County Jail

The 2016 numbers are in for the Douglas County Jail, and some of the same trends continued: overcrowding at the jail is up even though arrest numbers are down, and black inmates continue to make up a disproportionate share of the jail’s population.

The recently completed annual report — the department got it completed several months later than normal this year — fills its 46 pages with numbers, but four stand out for Undersheriff Gary Bunting.

2016 Douglas County Jail numbers

Total bookings, 5,329.

Male bookings, 3,771.

Female bookings, 1,558.

Cost per day to house inmate in the county jail, $77.12.

Average amount spent on health care per inmate, $209.17.

Staff turnover rate, 11.1 percent.

Number of inmates receiving high school diplomas through the jail’s re-entry program, 7.

Number of deaths in the county jail, 0.

Number of staff monitored suicide watches, 83

Jail fees paid by the city of Lawrence, $756,938.

His concern starts with the jail’s average daily population for 2016 of 238.9 inmates, an increase from 194.7 the year before. There was not a single month in 2016 in which the average daily inmate population didn’t exceed the 186 beds in the facility. That continued a trend that started in June 2015, when the average daily population was 198 inmates.

The other numbers that stand out to Bunting are consequences of the overcrowding, he said. They include:

• The Sheriff’s Office spending $1.3 million to “farm out” inmates to out-of-county jails.

• An increased recidivism rate among inmates in the jail’s re-entry program to 45 percent in 2016.

• An increase in the number of incidents in which corrections officers called for emergency assistance or signaled a fight code. That has jumped from 38 such calls in 2013 to 81 in 2016, Bunting said.

The annual report provides hard numbers for costs, staff training, population numbers, demographics and other statistics used to measure such things as safety and health within the jail. Bunting said the annual report was delayed because of the need to provide statistics to the Douglas County Commission as it considered different jail expansion design options. On Nov. 29, county commissioners approved a $44 million design that would add 179 beds to the current 186-bed facility. The County Commission is expected to put a bond referendum to fund the jail expansion before voters in 2018.

The increase to the inmate population has occurred while bookings into the jail have decreased. The 5,329 bookings in 2016 were 579 fewer than in 2015 and the fewest since the 5,297 recorded in 2012. The 2016 booking totals actually were at the third lowest level since 2000, yet inmate populations continue to hit new highs. Sheriff Ken McGovern and Bunting have attributed that seeming contradiction to changes in state statute, such as redefining a speedy trial from 90 to 150 days, and an increase in arrests for serious felony crimes.

The redefinition of a speedy trial became effective July 1, 2015, which corresponds to the time the jail inmate population started regularly exceeding jail capacity.

“This, along with the continued increase in the number of person felony crimes that have been charged over the past few years, have contributed to our increased average daily population,” Bunting said. “Felonies generally take a longer amount of time to reach a case disposition.”

The inmate population increase has necessitated a corresponding increase in the farming out of inmates to the jails of other counties. County inmates spent a total of 24,410 days confined in out-of-county jails in 2016. That nearly doubled the total of 12,654 days inmates spent in out-of-county jails in 2015.

Re-entry program threatened

Because other counties don’t want problems, farmed-out inmates are those in jail for low-level offenses who would benefit most from the county’s re-entry programs, which address problems like substance abuse, domestic violence and criminal thinking. Educational opportunities are also provided.

But the practice of farming out so many inmates was eroding the effectiveness of the re-entry program, Bunting said. That problem is especially acute among female inmates because 40 percent were farmed out in 2016, he said.

From 2011 through 2015, the re-entry program’s recidivism rate was 34 percent. It jumped to 45 percent in 2016.

“This dramatic increase is directly linked to re-entry eligible inmates being housed out of county, unable to meet with a case manager and participate in cognitive behavioral programs,” the report states. “During 2011 through 15, reentry clients received an average of 75 hours of cognitive behavioral programs before being released to the community. In 2016, many clients received less than five hours.”

Overcrowding has forced the Sheriff’s Office to house some maximum security and medium security inmates in pods meant for lower security inmates. That leads to greater tensions and more fights, Bunting said. Correction officers have called out the same number of fight codes or calls for assistance — 81 — in 2017 as they did in 2016, he said.

The Assess, Identify and Divert program was introduced at the jail in March 2016 after the county received a two-year federal grant providing funding to hire two mental health clinicians to identify inmates with mental health issues and get them into treatment. The report states 113 of the 127 inmates identified participated and 80 percent completed treatment. Bunting said county funding will sustain the AID program with the end of the grant in 2018, and that the end of federal grant restrictions would allow it to be expanded.

One trend that remained steady was over-representation of people of color in the jail’s population. There was, however, some positive movement in those numbers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, blacks make up 4.6 percent of the county’s population, but accounted for 15.3 percent of the jail’s population in 2016. Native Americans, who account for 2.7 percent of the county’s population, represented 5.4 percent of the jail’s inmates. In 2015, blacks represented 17.6 percent and Native Americans 7 percent of the jail’s inmates.

Minority inmates did benefit from the jail’s re-entry program in 2016 at a greater rate than their incarceration rate. According to the annual report, blacks accounted for 20 percent of those participating in the re-entry’s cognitive behavioral intervention program and 26.9 percent of those taking advantage of educational programing offered at the jail, while Native Americans represented 7.6 percent and 8.1 percent of the total inmate participation in those programs.