GROVE — Delaware County officials say they are releasing prisoners early, lowering bail and doing everything they can to prevent fines for overcrowding after residents for the fourth time in two years rejected a sales tax increase to fund additional jail beds.
It's a cost that's eventually going to have to be paid, County Commissioner Kenneth Crowder said.
"The state is probably going to have to take action," said Crowder. "I don't know what the answer is and there are people walking the streets that shouldn't be because of it."
State jail inspectors in 2006 cited the then-5-year-old jail for being in violation of government jail standards, primarily overcrowding.
Delaware County Sheriff's Department Capt. Ron Teel said the jail on Wednesday was holding 66 prisoners.
Capacity is 62.
A proposition to fund an 8-year, half-cent sales tax to add 100 beds to the existing 62-bed jail failed 2,549 to 3,982 votes
In April, residents narrowly rejected a proposition for a half-cent sales tax to fund an $11.9 million jail. In January 2009 and in August 2008 voters said no to a one-10th penny sales tax proposal to keep about 20 Delaware County inmates in the Ottawa County jail.
"Crimes aren't decreasing," District Attorney Edward Wyant said. "If they feel it's enough jail, that's what we'll work with. We'll reduce bonds, and we'll release people we'd like to have incarcerated."
Crowder said one argument of the sales tax opponents was the laws need to be changed, fewer people jailed and more of an emphasis put on alternatives to incarceration.
He said Grove residents were also concerned about the rising sales-tax rate.
State jail inspector Chief James Joselin said the state is willing to work with county officials as long as they are looking for solutions.
"We're working with them as best we can," Joselin said. "We don't set out to impose fines."
If fines are levied, they could amount up to $500 per day for every prisoner over capacity. That would be passed along to property owners in Delaware County, Crowder said.
Other jails in trouble
Nearly 50 counties have built jails over the past decade, Joselin said. Older jails still face overcrowding problems.
Kay, Caddo and Seminole counties have all had overcrowding issues that led to violation of state codes but are either building or have secured funding for jails or additional beds. Pontotoc County recently opened a jail and is again in compliance with state laws.
The Canadian County jail has nearly twice been shut down because of overcrowding.
County officials there are paying $21,000 per month to house inmates in other counties to avoid fines.
Voters in 2008 rejected a .35-cent sales tax to fund a $25 million jail.
Officials there are working out language for a bond issue in the coming months.
In Oklahoma County, officials plan to ask voters for about $300 million to build a new jail, saying some of the problems mentioned in a scathing report by the Department of Justice can't be fixed in the existing facility.
The report criticized the jail for rampant violence, excessive use of force by guards, medical neglect, overcrowding and understaffing.