If the inmate population keeps rising as it has in the past, Greene County is expected to need a total of 2,008 jail beds by 2037, up from the current capacity of 601, a jail consultant says.
“Literally unsustainable,” is how consultant Bill Garnos described the projected inmate population growth to county leaders. “You don’t have the criminal justice system to support that type of inmate growth.”
He warned there will be a tipping point in the future when the system maxes out — when the county cannot possibly hire enough prosecutors, judges, public defenders and law enforcement officers to keep up.
“The system would break before we get to the numbers the math models are showing,” said Garnos.
Garnos told the News-Leader he hopes his findings will “reinvigorate” the community to continue to find ways to manage the jail population.
Garnos was hired in April by the county to analyze local inmate population growth and future jail space needs.
Garnos presented the results of the study Friday afternoon.
In five years, the jail will need 1,155 beds. In 10 years, 1,430 beds. Another 10 years after that, 2,008 beds.
Greene County’s overall population is expected to grow steadily in the next decades, likely putting more pressure on its criminal justice system.
Garnos said the county jail has seen a trend of more high-security inmates, longer-stay inmates and inmates who suffer from mental health or substance abuse issues.
One key factor in slowing inmate population growth, Garnos said, will be taking a closer look at an “unusual and dramatic” spike in the average length of stay.
The average length of stay for inmates has gone up significantly, Garnos said. In 2010 it was 12.7 days. Six years later, the average was 20.4 days.
“We can see what’s happening, but I can’t tell you exactly why,” Garnos said. “We have to be very careful in projects like this with pointing fingers.”
Overworked, underpaid public defenders are one part of the judicial system that Garnos said others in the community have said may be contributing to longer stays in jail.
Greene County Commissioner Harold Bengsch told the News-Leader that the overcrowded jail and the associated costs of housing inmates out-of-county are critical concerns that need to be addressed.
Bengsch said the jail will need to be expanded, possibly with extra room reserved for further construction in the future.
At the same time, Bengsch said, community leaders must come together to find solutions for mental health, substance abuse and addiction issues.
One component, Bengsch said, will be a mental health assessment the health department recently received grant funding to do. The study will examine the gap in mental health services in Springfield, he said.
Close to 65 percent of inmates in the Greene County Jail have mental health or substance abuse issues, Bengsch said.
If people can be treated instead of locked up, “it will have a tremendous impact on reducing the number of violators that may need the services of our jail,” Bengsch said.
Greene County currently has the largest jail among un-chartered counties in Missouri, Garnos said. With about 289,000 residents, Greene County also has the biggest population in that group.
The ratio of jail beds per 1,000 county residents is 2.1, which is normal among comparable counties in the state, Garnos said.
The study also contained a snapshot of the jail’s population demographics from May 11. On that day, the Greene County Sheriff’s Office was detaining 757 inmates.
84 percent male
16 percent female
1 percent under 18
35 percent between 18 and 29
32 percent between 30 and 39
19 percent between 40 and 49
11 percent between 50 and 59
3 percent 60 or older
79 percent white
17 percent black
3 percent Hispanic
1 percent Native American or Asian
85 percent were inmates being held on state charges
15 percent were inmates being held on federal charges
Length of stay:
21 percent had been in jail between one and 14 days
18 percent had been in jail between 14 and 30 days
17 percent had been in jail between 31 and 60 days
12 percent had been in jail between 61 and 90 days
31 percent had been in jail between 91 and 180 days
9 percent had been in jail between 181 and 364 days
15 percent had been in jail more than a year
About 18 percent were being housed at out-of-county jails. The sheriff’s office contracts with several other counties across the state for jail space.
The majority of inmates are housed on state charges, awaiting trial, Garnos said. A smaller portion — 15 percent — are being held at the jail for U.S. Marshals on federal charges.
The jail has not held any inmates arrested on municipal charges since the sheriff stopped taking them in April 2015 — sparking a lawsuit that was recently dropped by the city, county and sheriff.
If an expected countywide sales tax increase is passed by voters, the county will use a portion of the revenue to expand the jail. If that happens, the sheriff has agreed to start housing up to 48 municipal inmates a day free of charge to the city.
Other factors Garnos said county officials should investigate include a declining number of inmates being booked and released each month, the declining availability of jail beds in other counties’ jails in the region, probation trends and a growing volume of outstanding arrest warrants.
Garnos is an independent consultant who serves on the Gladstone, Missouri City Council. According to the report, Garnos has directed or assisted with jail planning projects for more than 100 cities and counties in 27 states.
Greene County spokesperson Trysta Herzog said the county’s contracted architecture firm, nForm Architecture, subcontracted Garnos for his work at a rate of $85 an hour. To date, the county has paid Garnos about $10,500, Herzog said.
By Alissa Zhu | Springfield News Leader