Prisoners Released Because of Jail Overcrowding

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The Ingham County Jail has a total capacity of 665 inmates. Tuesday morning, they had 687.

"When we get to that kind of overcrowding, we've got inmates sleeping on the floor, double and triple bunked," Chief Deputy Greg Harless explains.

Prison releases get that number back in sync. The jail compiles a list of non-violent offenders, separated into categories. Category 1 means they have just 2 days left in their sentence. Prisoners can be released if they've served 70% of the sentence. The list includes inmates up to Category 9. Those highly-ranked prisoners are often people who haven't even been to trial, but haven't made bond.

Judge and prosecutors have the right to review each list in a 24-hour period. Anyone they strike will likely be kept in.

This week, Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings explains, some of the Category 8's were charged with home invasion, unarmed robbery. "These are serious offenses," Dunnings says.

"Hopefully we can stay on top of this, but it's an added burden and it's becoming more frequent....Do I worry about this at night? Yes, I do."

He says the prisoners on the list rarely are a real threat to the community but he is concerned about the message it sends. "You're not gonna do the time when you do the crime," he says.

Dunnings put the blame securely on the backs of legislators, who he says have been short-sighting in creating sentencing guidelines that put most of the burden on county jails. He says the state knew there wouldn't be enough beds to house criminals in jail or prison by 2007, and never provided funding to change that.

"This train has been coming at us for 10 years and nobody did anything about it."

Tuesday night, Ingham County had 71 prisoners who'd be okay'd on the list. 30 of them had not been tried. The goal of the release is to get the prison population down to 664.

"By Thursday, we'll be overcrowded again," Harless says.

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