County

Study: Jail needs almost double bed capacity by 2040

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The Montgomery County Jail needs almost twice as many beds to house the number of inmates projected to be held by 2040, a new study finds.

A feasibility study and bed analysis of the jail by DLZ Engineering calls for adding 182 beds to the facility, bringing the total number of beds to 406. The jail currently has 224 beds.

The report, which DLZ is presenting to the Board of Commissioners today, examines the physical condition of the sheriff’s office and jail, analyzes the inmate population and forecasts the jail’s capacity needs over the next 20 years.

At the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, the jail released about 100 low-level non-violent offenders, including some nearing the end of their sentences, to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

But before the pandemic, the jail was constantly at or near full, said Montgomery County Sheriff Ryan Needham. The average daily population reached 270 in July 2017, nearly 50 inmates beyond capacity.

“You know, right now is certainly an exception,” Needham told county council members in requesting funding for the study last April. “What’s that going to look like in five years, 10 years?”

The study analyzed seven years of inmate population data ending in 2019. (Figures through mid-2020 provided by the county were not included due to the pandemic.)

While the number of people booked into jail declined over the period, the average stay grew longer and fewer inmates were released, according to the data.

Annual bookings dropped by 17 percent over the period to 1,374, according to the data. Probation violations amount to most of the booking charges.

The average length of stay grew by 30 days to 145 days. More than 200 fewer inmates were released, with 1,400 offenders discharged in 2019.

The jail population is projected to top the 300 mark by 2033 based on trends, according to the study. To reduce admissions, DLZ recommends a series of steps including funding local detoxification services and developing diversion options for mentally ill offenders.

The study also includes an assessment of the building, which opened in 2006. It prioritizes a list of suggested improvements, including the repairing and painting of exterior doors and frames, repairing mezzanine perimeter railing in inmate housing and extending a security system services agreement.

The proposed expansion comes with an estimated price tag of $18.5 to $21 million in hard construction costs, in addition to about $300,000 in top-priority infrastructure repairs.

If approved, construction would likely take 14 to 18 months.

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