Sheboygan County officials ponder jail survey results

With the help of a new computer software package, Sheboygan County officials are extracting data from the county's two detention facilities to help them figure out ways to alleviate potential overcrowding and avoid spending millions to expand current facilities.

“No one wants to spend $22 million on a new jail” to solve the problem, Sheboygan County Circuit Judge James Bolgert said at Wednesday's Criminal Justice Advisory Committee.

On Wednesday, the committee received a report prepared by the Milwaukee-based Public Policy Forum. The study was meant to answer two questions — who's in the jails and what needs must be addressed.

Most of the study centered on a snapshot of the county system as it appeared on June 27.

According to the study:

» There were 191 offenders in custody and 30 on electronic monitoring that day.

» Almost 89 percent of those offenders were male, 71.2 percent were white and 50.7 percent were 30 years old or younger.

» Almost 40 percent were awaiting trial while 26.7 percent were in jail probation holds and 15.4 percent were serving out sentences.

» Violent offenders were the largest group of pre-trial inmates, making up 22.7 percent of that group. Drug offenses accounted for 18.2 percent and sex offenders made up 11.4 percent.

» Among sentenced offenders, alcohol-related offenses were most common, accounting for 20.6 percent, followed by process offenses — bail jumping, violating restraining orders, and bench warrants — at 11.8 percent.

» More than one third of offenders had their bails set at $1,000 or less. Another third was between $1,001 and $5,000.

Authors of the study suggested further study could look at why older inmates are more likely to be on the electronic monitoring program and the effect lesser offenses have on custody.

One question Bolgert and Circuit Judge Angela Sutkiewicz said they would like answered is how many days do offenders spend in jail before they enter the electronic monitoring program, which allows inmates to live at home if they wear an electronic bracelet that can be tracked by authorities.

“I would just like to know how many days they're spending in jail,” Bolgert said.

The county operates two jail facilities — an 80-bed unit at the Law Enforcement Center near downtown and the 296-bed Sheboygan County Detention Center on the city's south side. The county's electronic monitoring program can handle up to 50 inmates.

The average daily inmate population is almost 200 people, which is down 27 percent since 2009, when the average daily population was 274, the study said.

“Alternative incarceration programs, primarily electronic monitoring, have reduced jail overcrowding,” Corrections Administrator Lt. Paul Brinkman said.

That prompted Bolgert to say, “Overcrowding seems to no longer be an issue.”

But Brinkman countered that the jail population fluctuates and is often near capacity because many of the inmates need to be separated from one another because of age, gender or other factors.

“We are at or near capacity to keep certain populations separate,” Brinkman said. “It does fluctuate. To say we don't have an overcrowding issue wouldn't be correct.”

The study is possible, officials said, because of the new $1.4 million Spillman software package that became operational in May.

It has overhauled 911 dispatch, records management, jail management, report management and search capabilities and crime mapping, among other things. It replaced an array of software that officials say was cumbersome to use and difficult to search.

“It's like we've come out of the stone age,” committee Chairman Brian Hoffmann said.

Some officials complained that the report was a little light on data, but the study's preparers chalked that up to Spillman having just come online when the data was collected.

“As many staff become more acquainted with the new data system, … other data sources and breakdowns could reveal additional trends and assist in directing the (committee) to new strategies,” it read.

“Our new computer system hopefully will help us get a lot of the data we need,” Hoffmann said.