Public Safety

Average daily Johnson County Jail population drops below 100

The Johnson County Jail in Iowa City. (Gazette file photo)
The Johnson County Jail in Iowa City. (Gazette file photo)

IOWA CITY — The average daily population at the Johnson County Jail dropped so much in 2016, that even Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek was surprised by the final numbers.

“I was actually shocked by it,” Pulkrabek said Wednesday. “I knew our numbers were dropping, but I had no idea our average population would drop below 100.”

According to statistics included in the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office annual report, the average daily jail population was 91.5 inmates in 2016, down from 109.6 the year before. Pulkrabek noted the average daily jail population has been declining for several years. The average daily population was 160.3 inmates in 2011 and 145.1 in 2012. In 2014, the average daily population was 123.4.

Lee Hermiston / The Gazette

While the daily jail population dropped by 18 inmates a day from 2015 — average daily jail population, 109.6 inmates — to 2016, the jail saw a slight increase in bookings last year. In 2016, the jail saw 5,555 bookings, up from 5,271 the year before. However, Pulkrabek notes that bookings have steadily decreased over the last several years, as well, pointing to the 7,043 bookings in 2011.

“You see a steady decline from those numbers, as well,” he said.

Originally built to house 46 inmates, Johnson County double bunks its inmates, bringing the population of the jail to 92. However, Pulkrabek said they try to keep the population of the jail around 60 to 70 to accommodate for inflow and outflow or to isolate problematic inmates when necessary. The rest are housed at the Muscatine County Jail.

According to the annual report, there were 968 inmate transports due to overcrowding, court orders and other factors in 2016, a decrease from 1,058 in 2015 and 1,090 in 2014. In 2011, the sheriff’s office had more than 1,500 inmate transports.

With the decrease in daily jail population and fewer inmates being housed out of county, the sheriff’s office saw a significant decrease in the costs associated with housing inmates outside of the county. In 2015, the sheriff’s office spent $1.05 on housing and transporting inmates outside of the county, a number buoyed somewhat by renovations at the jail between May 1 and Aug. 15 of that year. In 2016, however, the sheriff’s office spent $556,192 on housing and transporting inmates outside of the county.

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Pulkrabek said the continuing decrease in average daily jail population can likely be attributed to ongoing jail alternative efforts and a shift among judges allowing for inmates to be released on their own recognizance or on a cash or surety bond, rather than just cash.

Jessica Peckover, the county’s jail alternatives coordinator, said she doesn’t see any one program driving down the jail population, but rather a confluence of initiatives, as well as “buy in” from different entities in the criminal justice system, including police, judges, attorneys and Department of Corrections officials.

Some ongoing efforts include training officers to recognize when a subject is having a mental health or substance abuse crisis and diverting them from jail, weekly meetings to determine if an inmate’s case can be expedited, and a marijuana diversion program, Peckover said.

“I think there are so many different strategies,” she said. “We are starting to see that synergistic effect.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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