The Ada County Sheriff’s Office was awarded $1 million on Wednesday to help reduce the county’s jail population. The goal is to decrease the number of inmates in the jail by 15 to 19 percent, an effort that could save Ada County taxpayers thousands of dollars.
The grant is part of the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, for which the Ada County Sheriff’s Office was selected as a finalist three years ago.
It’s a national initiative to help reduce jail overcrowding and change the way agencies use their jail - an important goal for Ada County.
“This really allows us to put some teeth into it, some resources behind the programs that we've been working on," said Sheriff Steve Bartlett.
The sheriff’s office has worked over the past three years to create a plan to help reduce the number of inmates in the jail. Officials also plan to use some of the money to hire additional staff.
“That's going to allow us to hire an additional eight people here at the Ada County Sheriff's Office to work with our court system, to work with our public defender’s office,” Bartlett said.
The staff will work as liaisons between the court system and attorneys to help identify those who should - and shouldn't - be in jail.
The grant money will also be used to help create a notification system, which will allow court clerks to send out texts, e-mails, and phone calls to those with upcoming court dates.
“I receive letters every single week from people who are writing me to say, 'I messed up. I thought my court date was tomorrow,' Ada County Magistrate Judge James Cawthon said.
“In the long run it will reduce the number of bookings and people inside the Ada County Jail because they'll be showing up for court,” Bartlett said.
The sheriff's office already has made some moves to reduce its jail population, including how they handle those arrested for driving without privileges or failure to obtain, maintain, and provide proof of insurance.
“Those used to be charges that if you are arrested on them you would have to post bond or receive a court date and get involved with the system," Bartlett said. "But as of June 1 those have been made charges that you will just be booked and released."
Public defenders have also worked with prosecutors and the sheriff’s office to do “jail sweeps” and identify those people stuck in jail with low-level misdemeanors who can’t afford bond.
“Really fulfill our mission of evaluating people, determining who should be in jail and who should not be in jail,” Bartlett said.
The cost to operate the jail every year is a little more than $30 million.
“Every inmate that we reduce is $97 a day less that the Ada County citizens are paying for,” Bartlett said.