September 16, 2006 in Idaho

Canyon County judges struggle with full jails

Associated Press The Spokesman-Review

NAMPA, Idaho – Judges in southwestern Idaho’s fast-growing Canyon County are not offering get-out-of-jail-free cards, but in many cases their sentences do just that.

Judges and officials with the county Sheriff’s Office have reached an agreement to ease overcrowding with several revised sentencing guidelines aimed at shortening jail stays.

The measures include: sending more offenders straight to work-release programs instead of jail; expanding the category of crimes where offenders are eligible for pretrial release; and turning debts over to collection agencies rather than jailing scofflaws.

The Sheriff’s Office is also encouraging county deputies and city officers in Caldwell and Nampa to process more book-and-release arrests.

The measures are a temporary fix to the long-term overcrowding problem, said Canyon County sheriff’s Sgt. Andrew Kiehl. He warned that criminals might now think they can get away with petty offenses.

“The danger with doing something like this is the criminals in Canyon County know this as well,” Kiehl said. “It’s a quick fix, but it’s not solving the crime problem.”

The reduced sentencing does not replace the need for a new jail, he said.

Canyon County’s jail has been maxed out for years, raising the ire of the American Civil Liberties Union over mistreatment of prisoners and putting pressure on county commissioners to fix the problem.

In January, the county reported that more than a dozen inmates were sleeping on the floor. Many inmates have been transferred to jails in other counties.

This month, judges began streamlining hearings and issuing alternative sentences. Some have added a new Wednesday morning session for selected offenders, so prisoners do not spend weeks in jail waiting for court appearances.

“It looks like it’s going to be something that’s successful in knocking down our numbers,” Kiehl said.

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