Jail hitting goal to reduce overcrowding

EVERETT — Here’s some good news from the Snohomish County Jail.

Efforts to reduce crowding by encouraging area police to use the jail differently have begun to bear fruit.

As a result, the jail in recent weeks has managed to hit a targeted average daily population of 990 inmates, down from routinely running above its maximum capacity of 1,025, Sheriff Ty Trenary said.

Reducing the jail’s population to improve safety for inmates and staff was a key recommendation from the National Institute of Corrections. The county asked the federal agency to examine jail operations this summer in response to growing concern over a string of inmate deaths in recent years.

Trenary responded to the feds’ recommendation in part by imposing booking restrictions, including telling police there was no room for people suspected of nonviolent misdemeanors.

On Friday the sheriff wrote area police chiefs, saying the booking restrictions have been lifted, but the jail’s population is still being closely monitored.

“I want to thank you for your patience and assistance in reaching our goal,” Trenary wrote. “We ask that you consider how you utilize the facility. Please find alternatives to booking for non-violent offenders. If they have mental health issues please utilize a mental health facility.”

Trenary also said that corrections officers will continue to screen inmates for potential medical and mental health issues that can’t be appropriately addressed by the jail. The jail now has an on-call doctor, but it no longer is accepting people with high-risk health problems.

Everett Police Chief Kathy Atwood said her department temporarily limited its arrests of nonviolent suspects in response to Trenary’s requests.

“In cases where bookings were not made, offenders were given court dates to answer for criminal allegations,” she said.

With the booking restrictions lifted, Everett police will continue to look for alternatives, she said.

Everett officers have been citing and releasing some suspects in nonviolent cases and will continue a long-standing practice of looking for options besides jail to get them off the street, Everett police spokesman Aaron Snell said.

For example, police try to help connect the suspects with their families so they have a place to stay, to take them to a detox facility or help them get to a shelter or some other emergency housing, he said.

Trenary was appointed sheriff in July. He’s spent much of his attention since then wrestling with inherited jail-related problems. Controlling the jail’s inmate population has loomed large not only in questions about adequate inmate health care, but also in staffing and costly overtime spending.

Scott North: 425-339-3431; north@heraldnet.com.

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