By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer
The jail overcrowding that has taxed the county budget for the past few years may be starting to ebb, according to jail administrator Don Burdine.
There are nearly a hundred fewer Curry County inmates today than just two months ago, the jail administrator reported at Tuesday’s County Commission meeting.
Burdine said it wasn’t immediately clear why the numbers dropped so drastically in the last 60 days. Arrests and criminal citations made by the Clovis Police increased over the last three months, according to numbers provided by CPD officials.
But Burdine said for the first time in a while the facility is consistently seeing more inmates released than booked.
Since September the county has averaged 123 inmates housed outside of the county’s approximately 200-bed facility. This month that number has fallen to just 50.
Burdine cited efforts by the district attorney’s office and the public defender’s office toward increasing efficiency in the system as probable reasons for the drop in inmates.
District Attorney Matthew Chandler said speeding up the justice system was one of his goals when he took office in the fall.
“We’ve really tried to step up to the plate in making these cases roll faster and speed up the wheels of justice,” Chandler said.
“If someone’s sent to the Department of Corrections, they don’t need to spend four weeks sitting in the Curry County (Adult) Detention Center waiting for their paperwork to come through,” Chandler said. “We show up at the final hearing of a trial with all the paperwork ready.”
Chief Public Defender Brett Carter said filing motions to reduce bonds for the incarcerated has had some effect on the prison population.
“(The motion) is to try to get some of those individuals out of custody that are non-violent and that are not repeat offenders,” he said.
Carter said his office only had three attorneys in January. Now they are fully staffed with six, which allows for some of the court settings to be moved up.
“One of the other things I think is helping reduce the number of inmates in the Curry County jail is that the Department of Public Defender’s office finally got a full staff of attorneys,” he said. “We’re able to get a lot of the cases to court sooner.”
The reduction of prisoners also saves the county hundreds of thousands of dollars. For several years the county has housed house as many as 144 prisoners at other facilities because of jail overcrowding.
“I don’t care who gets credit, it just tickles me to death to see that the numbers are coming back in line to something that we can live with,” Burdine said Wednesday.
The county must pay about $1,000 per month to house an inmate out of county, Burdine said.
Over the last six months, the county paid between $125,000 and $150,000 per month to house inmates out of county, numbers provided by Burdine show.
Currently, the county is holding about 50 inmates outside the county, down from the peak of about 140 inmates per month in December and January. With the current level of inmates out of county, that number will fall to about $50,000 per month, the numbers show.
At current levels, all inmates in county control could be housed in a $1.5 million, 60-bed jail annex being installed next to the current facility.
Burdine hopes to begin using the facility in the next month.
At the current rate charged by Parmer and Dickens counties, the annex will reduce the county’s exposure by $60,000 per month, excluding costs to run the new facility.
Former County Manager Geneva Cooper said in July that the county paid $1.2 million in their 2003-04 fiscal year to house inmates out of county.
Numbers of inmates houses out of county since September 2004:
• Sept. — 111
• Oct. — 107
• Nov. — 123
• Dec. — 144
• Jan. — 141
• Feb. —112
• March — 50
Number of arrests and criminal citations since September 2004:
• Sept. — 232
• Oct. — 242
• Nov. — 243
• Dec. — 266
• Jan. — 232
• Feb. — 282
Source: Don Burdine, Jail administrator; Clovis Police Department