Denying bail is no way to relieve jail crowding

Published May 11, 2007

It was hard not to chuckle as Pasco County Commissioner Ted Schrader told his colleagues about his meeting with bail bondsmen.

No, he wasn't looking to get out of the pokey. Area bondsmen had been lobbying Schrader with their unique solution to the problem of overcrowding at the county jail: Stop setting nonviolent offenders free without bail.

Bondsmen claimed that many of those released without having to post bail end up being repeat offenders who clog the jail. Schrader was impressed.

"If someone is released ROR and breaks into your house or my house, it's a concern of mine and concern of other commissioners, " Schrader said. "It's absolutely worth thinking about."

Schrader is a pretty sharp guy, so it was odd that he bought the bail bond spin. They provide a vital public service, but they're not in the business of losing money.

Speaking of which, it costs big bucks to keep so many inmates. It makes sense to find alternative ways to monitor them, and the nonviolent offenders are the best candidates.

The county jail at Land O'Lakes is much like others in places where population is booming. It was designed for 726 inmates, but has long been over capacity. On an average day in March, the jail housed 1, 029 inmates.

The Sheriff's Office has been forced to look for ways to ease the overcrowding. It's done so by releasing people without bail, temporarily suspending weekend inmates and transferring some inmates to jails in Citrus and Hernando counties. The transfer plan cost about $53 per inmate per day, plus transportation. That tab adds up.

In the past week, the county has come up with a short-term solution by erecting a 118-bed temporary jail addition, which is already half full with those inmates brought back from Citrus and Hernando. The temporary jail is expected to remain in use until the permanent 512-bed expansion is completed about two years from now. But with the way Pasco is growing, that expansion may need expanding soon after it's completed.

Why should we care if the jail is overcrowded? It's not like they're all innocent.

Unfortunately, jails have become holding pens for too many people who really should be elsewhere - those guilty of minor, technical probation violations, alcoholics, drug addicts, the mentally ill.

When you mix them in with the really bad guys, the situation is volatile.

Cramming too many people into a jail is not only expensive to the taxpayers, it's dangerous for both inmates and guards. And that's nothing to chuckle about.

Andrew Skerritt can be reached at 813 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602. His e-mail address is askerritt@sptimes.com.