Pubdate: Fri, 26 Dec 2003
Source: Montgomery Advertiser (AL)
Copyright: 2003sThe Advertiser Co.
Author: Jessica M. Walker


The population at the Montgomery County jail has remained even over the 
past month, in spite of the fact that jury trials came to a halt Nov. 24.

But controlling the number of inmates at any time of year has become 
easier, thanks to community corrections efforts, according to some judges 
and law enforcement officials.

The jail population as of Dec. 19 was 397, according to Sheriff D.T. 
Marshall, just a few bodies down from November when jury trials stopped in 
a measure to save money in the face of statewide budget cuts. At the time, 
Marshall speculated that shutting down the jury system briefly would have 
little impact on the jail population, since other court hearings would 
still take place.

But he said that if there were no trials for an extended period of time, 
the jail could start to get more crowded. Jury trials in Montgomery County 
will resume on Jan. 12.

Overcrowded jails are not only physically inconvenient, they also can place 
a financial burden on the jail system. The cost of housing an inmate can 
vary widely, depending on their needs, but Marshall estimated that it costs 
about $30 per day to house the average inmate.

Marshall credited the work of judges and community corrections officers 
with keeping jail population down year round.

"We are all conscious of the jail population," said Montgomery Circuit 
Judge Charles Price, who said most of the credit for keeping numbers down 
should go to those who work in community corrections and probation 
officers. Circuit Judge Tracey McCooey agreed.

"One of our best resources is community corrections. Lynn Bell (the 
release-on-recognizance officer for community corrections) does an awesome 
job of getting over there every day and seeing who can get out," McCooey said.

The release-on-recognizance program allows for the release of inmates 
without posting bond. One of Bell's duties is to evaluate who is a good 
candidate for the program by looking at factors such as the inmates' 
likelihood to re-offend and their prior criminal history. Inmates accused 
of violent crimes or with a criminal history of violence are not eligible 
for the community corrections program.

The program also looks for inmates that could benefit from community 
programs, such as an inmate accused of a drug-related offense that could be 
helped by time in a drug rehabilitation program.

In addition to the release-on-recognizance program, community corrections 
includes a number of programs that give nonviolent offenders the 
opportunity to get treatment for addictions or serve their sentences 
locally rather than being locked up in jail or prison.

Typical programs include drug court, work release, pretrial release, 
community service and supervised parole.

Montgomery County's community corrections program is relatively new, having 
started operations this spring in the basement of the county courthouse.

Judges also can take part in keeping inmate population down. For example, 
McCooey said she is often willing to re-evaluate an inmate's bond if he or 
she is a nonviolent offender.

"Every judge is always reviewing their people. And lawyers are always 
bringing people to us to reduce bond or let them out," said McCooey, who 
said she sometimes releases jail inmates and puts them on a close 
monitoring system until their day in court.
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