After two years of trending down, the average population at the Galveston County Jail has been steadily increasing since 2012, according to statistics from the county.
Corrections officials said it’s difficult to pinpoint specific causes for an increase in inmate population, which is occurring at county jails throughout the state. Changing economic conditions, trends in drug use and even the time of year are among the factors that can contribute to fluctuations in the jail population.
As county commissioners take a closer look at increasing efficiency in the local criminal justice system — the county has recently paid outside consultants to examine the system with an emphasis on intra-agency coordination and its effect on the jail population — managing the number of inmates could prove critical.
Justice system report
In April, commissioners received a preliminary report from Griffith, Moseley, Johnson and Associates, a consulting firm that was paid about $70,000 to assess the county’s criminal justice system.
John Johnson, vice president and general counsel at the firm, credited Galveston County Commissioners for analyzing ways to cut costs in the criminal justice system, which typically consumes the largest part of a county’s yearly budget. The corrections budget for Galveston County is about $21.5 million.
The report examines how almost every aspect of the county’s criminal justice system, from booking to pre-trial release to court caseloads, can impact the average daily population at the jail.
After trending down from an average daily jail population of 987 inmates in 2010 to 847 inmates in 2012, the population began increasing. The average daily population in 2013 was 894 inmates, and from January to June of this year, the count has remained at an average of 947, according to numbers from the sheriff’s office.
Bookings at the county jail have also increased since 2012, according to the report. From April 2013 to March 2014, “bookings have outpaced releases by 377,” at a rate of 1.95 percent.
The number of days an inmate occupied a bed in the county jail has also been on the upswing, increasing 7.5 percent in 2013, according to the report.
“If the increase in jail bed days continues at the 2013 rate of 7.5 percent, the county could expect 25,056 additional jail bed days in 2014” at an added cost of about $1.25 million, according to the report.
Other county jails across the state are also seeing an increasing jail population, Johnson said. Determining the reasons behind the trend is difficult, and involves analysis of municipal police work, operations at the county jail and how cases are processed through the court system as a whole, he said.
Some of the difficulty in Galveston County, according to the report, is a dearth of adequate data caused in part by a “lack of integration” among information technology systems used by the county.
During the summer, when school is out and parts of the county see a large influx of tourists and visitors, the inmate population is bound to increase, corrections Chief Deputy Mary Johnson said.
Longer-term fluctuations in inmate population can vary depending on economic factors, trends in drug use and other issues, she said.
The county jail is built to house just shy of 1,200 inmates, with a rated capacity of 1,171 beds.
In June 2013, the jail’s average daily population was 882 inmates. This June, the average inmate population was at 990, about 85 percent of the jail’s capacity.
When county jails reach 90 percent capacity, segregation of inmates becomes more difficult and puts a strain on resources, according to the report.
If the population hits a certain level, the Galveston County Jail could request variances from the state, allowing measures such as extra beds per cell block, Johnson said.
Jail populations are swelling across the state, Galveston County corrections officials said.
The report recommends the county increase staffing at the jail, noting that more than $800,000 was spent on overtime pay at the jail in 2013. The county jail employs about 280 people, with 225 assigned to jail security, according to the report.
Sheriff Henry Trochesset said the jail was adequately staffed when every employee was available.
However, employees on leave on sick days or vacation can require the sheriff’s office to pay deputies overtime, he said.
The state requires an officer-to-inmate ratio of one officer for every 48 inmates at the county jail. To maintain that ratio, the sheriff’s office, which also supplies security at the county courthouse among its various other law enforcement functions, is sometimes required to pay corrections officers overtime, he said.
“It’s an everyday thing, trying to find the happy medium,” Trochesset said.
The preliminary report examines possible methods to reduce the average daily population at the county jail, including the expansion of specialty court programs and the privatization of some evidence testing to expedite court cases.
Earlier this month, County Judge Mark Henry signed a memorandum of understanding with the incoming judge for the 212th District Court, Patricia Grady, who will work as a consultant to analyze and build on the findings in the report.
Grady, who will receive $2,100 a week, has been tasked with recommending ways to cut costs and increase efficiency in the county’s justice system.