Average daily population at Douglas County Jail fell slightly in 2017, reversing 5-year trend

photo by: Mike Yoder

Douglas County Jail

The average daily population of the Douglas County Jail dipped to 231 inmates in 2017, reversing a five-year trend in which the facility’s daily population has increased.

The average daily population number was among the statistics Undersheriff Gary Bunting provided last week to the Lawrence Journal-World. Although those statistics are traditionally included in the jail’s annual report, that document has yet to be released.

The average daily population of 231 for 2017 was a decline from the 238.9 average daily population at the jail in 2016. Bunting said the decrease stems from the introduction last year of the behavioral health court, pretrial release and home arrest programs.

Despite the success of those programs, the statistics show the jail exceeded its 186-bed capacity every month in 2017, as it has since June 2015. That forces the sheriff’s office to send 50 to 80 inmates a day to jails in other counties.

“That’s why we are so grateful for those programs, because there’s no telling where we would be without them,” Bunting said.

The trend in recent years has been an increase in the jail’s population and a decrease in bookings. That wasn’t the case in 2017, when there was a slight increase in bookings, as well. Statistics show 5,374 inmates were booked into the county jail last year, compared to 5,331 in 2016. Bookings have trended downward since 5,997 people were booked into jail in 2013.

People who were not Douglas County residents continued to account for a significant percentage of the jail’s population. The 1,530 nonresidents booked into the county jail last year accounted for 28 percent of the population. That percentage decreased from 2016 when 31 percent (1,662) of 5,331 inmates were nonresidents.

Minorities continued to be incarcerated at the jail at a rate significantly higher than their percentage of the county population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, blacks make up 4.6 percent of the county’s population, but accounted for 18.9 percent (1,016) of the jail’s inmates in 2017. That compared to the 2016 rate of 15.3 percent. Nonresidents accounted for 32 percent of black inmates in 2017 (272 inmates).

Native Americans, who account for 2.7 percent of the county’s population, represented 6.5 percent (349) of the jail’s population. That was an increase from 5.4 percent 2016.

In 2015, blacks represented 17.6 percent and Native Americans 7 percent of the jail’s inmates.

Robert Bieniecki, Douglas County criminal justice coordinator, said a consultant would soon be hired to conduct the promised study into possible ethnic profiling or bias in the county’s law enforcement departments. He was in the process of finalizing a contract with consultant Jack McDevitt, associate dean for research in the College of Social Sciences and Humanities at Northeastern University of Boston, to conduct the study.

McDevitt visited the county in July to meet with various law enforcement departments and community organizations like the ACLU and Justice Matters, Bieniecki said. It was agreed to delay the start of the study until a new Lawrence police chief was hired. New Lawrence Chief Gregory Burns Jr. is now meeting with Sheriff Ken McGovern, as well as chiefs from Baldwin City, Eudora and the University of Kansas, to discuss the issue.

McDevitt would be contracted to develop an electronic form that officers could fill out in their cars or on office computers, which would provide data on their minority contacts, Bieniecki said. McDevitt and his team would make recommendations after reviewing one to two years of collected data from such minority contacts, Bieniecki said.

Law enforcement agencies could continue to use the data collection form after the study was completed, Bieniecki said.

The sheriff’s office did see a decline in the number of female bookings. Last year, 1,486 women were incarcerated in the jail, which accounted for 27.6 percent of the total population. That was a decrease of 72 female bookings from 2016, and it was the first time in four years that fewer than 1,500 women were booked into the jail.

Three-quarters of the jail’s 2017 inmates were 39 years of age or younger. Jail statistics show 670 inmates (12.5 percent) were from 18 to 21 years of age, 1,781 (33.1 percent) ages 22 to 29 and 1,623 (30.2 percent) ages 30 to 39. Percentages fall sharply starting with the 40 to 49 age group, which accounts for only 761 (14.2 percent) of the jail’s population. There were 406 inmates (7.6 percent) between the age of 50 and 59, and 133 (2.5 percent) who were 60 years of age or older. Those percentages are consistent with age demographics included in the 2016 year-end report.