The cost of frequent offenders to taxpayers

Credit: Paul Boehlke/ KTVB

The cost of frequent offenders to taxpayers

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by Jamie Grey

Bio | Email | Follow: @KTVBJamieGrey

KTVB.COM

Posted on February 20, 2013 at 10:10 PM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 26 at 1:07 AM

BOISE -- Thousands of people are arrested in Idaho every year. While some stay out of jail and out of trouble after a brush with the law, KTVB found people who've been arrested over and over again at a cost to everyone.

Using a year's worth of arrest reports from the sheriff's office, KTVB found the majority of people, especially those charged with misdemeanors, have a pretty short stay in jail and stay out for a while. But, there is a certain set of people that data shows get arrested a lot.

KTVB examines Ada Co. Sheriff's Office jail data

The data shows several people who average a jail booking once a month. In the jail, staff says there are some people who've been arrested more than 100 times.

"We do have inmates that are here on multiple charges throughout the year," Major Ron Freeman, Ada County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy, said.

At any given time, Freeman says there are around 850 people staying in the Ada County Jail. Most are waiting for court or trial, some are serving sentences, some are being held for other reasons.

"We have very little control over who comes in. Our job is once they come in that we do the best we can to keep them safe and provide them with an environment that if they choose to, that they can get better," Freeman said.
   
To find out who's coming in, who's leaving, and who's coming right back, KTVB obtained nearly 25,000 records spanning the most recent available year, November 1, 2011 through October 31, 2012, then spent weeks analyzing it.

20% of inmates arrested multiple times within a year

In the year of data KTVB looked at, 9,622 people were arrested and booked in the Ada County Jail (More than 16,000 when including those checking in to serve time or booked on holds). Of those 10,000 initial arrests, around 20% (1,959) were booked more than once in the year.

When including holds and those coming back in to serve time on charges, the sheriff's office says 42% of inmates will end up coming back within a year.

Looking deeper in the data, KTVB found a smaller subset of frequently booked people. 69 people were arrested on five or more occasions in that year time frame. Four people were arrested 11 times in a year.

Most of the charges on those repeat offenders were misdemeanors, so Freeman says they can cycle faster.

"Most of the misdemeanor charges already have bonds preset, so I can come in, get booked in, reach my bond agent, bond right out, and I'm out," Freeman said. "So on a Friday or Saturday night, we could have 20 to 30 people in just two or three hours, and most of those will bond right out."

How do people get out of jail so quickly?

When someone has a bond set for release (whether automatically, or by a judge at the felony level), they can pay to get out. If they don't have the money, they can get a bondsman to secure their release.

"Typically if you're arrested, you can probably be out of the jail within an hour and a half, at most," Kevin Elliott, Big Dawg Bail Bonds Owner, said.

Elliott says he won't bond everyone out, but if the person is from the area, has family around, and a way to secure the bond, he will generally get the person out. In his business, he says he does notice repeat offenders, sometimes for the same crimes.

"It can be a vicious cycle actually. We've had moms that we've bonded out, that's bonded her son out, or vice versa," Elliott said.

Majority of repeat offenders in jail come back for failure to appear in court

In the group of 69 people identified as being newly booked five or more times within a year, many had the same charges, some over and over. Not surprising to the bail bondsman, the majority failed to make set court appearances (failure to appear) or violated a judge's orders or probation.

Many also had drug and alcohol offenses (including possession, DUIs, and public intoxication) with crimes against property (including theft and burglary) and then people (assault and battery) as the next largest groups.



Those findings were right in line with what jail administrators, bail bondsman and judges all say they see in their work.

"For those inmates that kind of come in and out on those misdemeanor charges, we know drugs, we know alcohol and mental illness are all a part of that," Freeman said.
   
While the jail offers some treatment, programming and classes (some of which inmates pay for themselves), administrators say most aren't in long enough for a life change, thus, the revolving door.

The actual cost to taxpayers

All inmates cost money. The jail costs taxpayers in Ada County around $63,000 a day to run. Generally, inmates cost around $70 a day to house.

Using the data, KTVB wanted to see roughly how much the 'revolving door' costs. To date, the specific group of 69 people arrested five or more times in a year has spent 5,423 days in jail. Using an average cost of $70 per day, that group alone has cost taxpayers $379,610.



"You can't just simply look at the cost to the jail as the only cost to our community. It's much more than that," Fourth District Judge Cheri Copsey said.

Judge explains how sentencing happens and what does, doesn't work
   
Judge Copsey says societal impacts, like children being without parents who are incarcerated, cost even more. That's why she says her top goal is to stop repeat offenders by using different types of sentences and tailoring sentences to each individual.

"Best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, so the job of a judge, I think, is very difficult because if you over punish, then you're not going to accomplish anything," Copsey said. "It's very much like being a parent. If you overpunish your child for bad behavior, they're going to be resentful and it's not going to change their behavior. If you undersanction their behavior, the same thing happens."

It's part of why she's a judge for a specialty "Drug Court" that deals with high-risk, addict offenders. She says after sitting on the bench for more than a decade, she has noticed common factors in repeat offenders.
 
"Number one: Substance abuse. And it seems if it's not addressed if you put them on probation, if it's not addressed it gets worse and worse. The other thing is a lack of education. I think most people would be surprised to see that the average person who commits crime, they don't have a high school diploma," Copsey said.

Judge: Specialty court drastically decreases repeat offenses

The Ada County Drug Court Program has graduated hundreds of participants, many of which returned to school during the program, and most of which were employed at graduation.
 
"The alcohol and drugs is only part of what's going on. You also have a criminal mindset that we have to address as well," Copsey said. "The repeat from people who don't go through drug court is very high, it's close to 70%. In drug court, it's just the opposite."

Copsey doesn't think there's enough available for the drug addicts, alcoholics or mentally ill now, but she says it's alternative sentencing and programs like Drug Court that the state does have that will help address repeat offenders and the strain on the community. She says she's seen examples of the change, including a graduate approaching her at the mall.

"[He] runs up, puts his arms around me, gives me a hug. Pulls out his smartphone so he can show me videos of his 3 month old little girl and shares with me all the things that have happened in his life that are all positive," Copsey said. "That's when it hits you that people can change. These repeat offenders, they really can change. It just really requires a different kind of approach and programming."

Other specialty courts aim to target different types of repeat offenders

Ada County has several specialty courts: Drug, DUI, Mental Health, and a recently added Veterans Court are all now sentencing options that Judge Copsey says helps people caught in a cycle of crime.   
   
Ada County says 10% of jail inmates have some type of mental illness, and the average cost of housing those people is about twice the cost of other inmates. Coming up next Monday during the 10:00 p.m. newscast, KTVB will have a report examining the state of Idaho's mental health care.


 

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