Sheriff Scott Busching is concerned about declining space in the Williams County jail.
“I didn’t think I would see the jail full in my lifetime,” Busching said of the only 3-year-old jail. “We thought it would be a 50-year building. It made it three and a half.”
In particular, the womens’ part of the jail is overfull, and as of Friday July 5, the jail cannot hold anymore.
In 2008, Busching estimated about 35 people in the Williams County jail. In June 2013, the jail averaged 100-110 inmates.
The key ingredient in the sizeable increase is, as always, the boom in population.
“More people, more crime,” Busching said shortly. There are 112 beds in the jail and Busching reported that officials usually count 80 percent of the beds being full as the jail being full.
One problem Busching acknowledged was that the jail cannot keep those serving a sentence in the same cell as someone who hasn’t yet had a trial.
The western side of North Dakota in general is having problems with lack of space in their jails – Busching cited Minot, Bismarck and Mandan as also being too full.
Morton County Sheriff Dave Shipman said the Mandan jail can house 41 inmates on average, and currently has a regular intake of 35 per day. Sometimes, the jail overflows, with 50-51 inmates on particularly bad days.
“We can house some inmates in the Bismarck transition center,” he said, talking of solutions to the problem. “Sometimes we use electronic monitoring bracelets and put them on house arrest.”
“As a last resort, we throw a mattress on the floor at the jail and just keep them here,” he said.
Talks are in the works of a joint facility with Burleigh County. If that doesn’t work out, Shipman said the city has space on the east side of the Mandan jail to expand, as well as a building to the south purchased by the county for additional space.
Burleigh County Sheriff Pat Heinert said the Bismarck jail is “over full,” and that they are “housing out of the facility every night” anywhere they can find.
In 2010, the average number of prisoners was 125, according to statistics given by Heinert. By 2012, the number shot up to 155, exceeding the capacity limit of 138. Now in 2013, the number has hit 167, almost 30 more than the maximum capacity.
Heinert listed off Stark County, Cass County, Stutsman County, Grand Forks County, Richland County and the Bismarck transition center as those with jails that they transferred inmates to.
“The county right now is developing a charter to build a new facility,” Heinert said.
The Williams County Jail is also looking at expanding, Busching said. The county commissioner will be meeting with the commissioners of surrounding cities to talk about plans for expansion.
“We’re still in the talking phase about the expansions,” Busching said. “There’s been nothing official done.”
In addition, a new judge joining the city’s ranks will help speed along the process of hearings and arraignments and help free up space at the jail. The new judge will be announced this month by the governor.