Eau Claire County can build a fourth pod in its jail, but it can’t afford staffing and operating the space, a county official said Tuesday.
“The real conundrum isn’t the build-out … it’s the ongoing, year-after-year costs of operating an additional pod in the jail,” county Administrator Kathryn Schauf said.
She and jail staff — attending the first meeting of the newly created Jail Population Review Committee — estimated that cost at more than $2 million annually.
“That is a huge amount of money,” Schauf said. “Within our levy limits, there is no way.”
Eau Claire County spent $200,000 to send inmates elsewhere in 2018 — six years after the county opened a new jail, and projections call for that figure to rise in coming years as the number of inmates outgrows available jail space.
“There are other counties shipping out inmates,” said Sheriff Ron Cramer, noting Eau Claire County has contracts with Chippewa and Dunn counties. “In the future, being able to find enough bed space is a concern.”
At its December meeting, the County Board directed the Criminal Justice Collaborating Council to complete a comprehensive analysis of the jail population and provide a report by June.
To analyze the increase in jail population and recommend alternatives to the board, the committee will:
• Conduct a cost-benefit analysis focusing on housing inmates out of Eau Claire County and completing and staffing the fourth jail pod.
• Review historical and projected jail population trends along with triggers for overpopulation.
• Provide an update on the state Legislative study committee on bail and conditions of pretrial release.
• Develop a sentencing program for medium- to medium-high risk defendants.
• Explore evidence-based programming options in the community.
• Work with the state Department of Corrections on inmate classifications, jail holds and after-hour holds.
• Review changes in projected demographics.
During the committee’s 75-minute meeting Tuesday, the more than a dozen people who attended touched on a number of topics.
In 2008, the average daily jail population was 261, District Attorney Gary King said. Nine years later, that average rose to 276.
In comparison, his office filed 832 felony cases in 2008 and 1,533 such cases in 2017.
“This notion that either the system and the community isn’t doing almost everything possible to not incarcerate people is flat false,” King said.
That said, the types of felony cases filed by his office involve much more violent offenders and more higher-risk people, King said.
Since building the jail, there have been changes in legislation that also have affected population, Cramer said.
“The Legislature has been very, very busy,” said Laurie Osberg, regional attorney manager for the state public defenders office, mentioning a proposed bill that would make first-offense drunken driving a crime.
If that happens, “I can tell you what that’s going to do to your jail population,” she said.