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We're throwing too many people in jail
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When Apple announced several months ago its latest iPhone would come with $999 pricetag, it was a definite OMG moment.

But anyone who knows much about cellphones will tell you the $999 price is just a smidgen of the overall cost when it comes to owning a cellphone. Monthly service plans can really make a dent in a family budget, especially if you exceed your data allotment.

The end result is your $999 phone will likely end up costing you at least $2,500 in service fees to operate over a five-year period.

I mention this not to get you to re-evaluate your cellphone plan. Rather, my point is to make a comparison to upcoming expansion plans at Warren County Jail.

County government has said it intends to borrow $6.5 million to expand our overcrowded jail. It's a figure that has drawn a little outrage because, like a $999 phone, it seems like an awful lot of money.

In actuality, that $6.5 million will end up being just a tiny fraction of the overall expense when it comes to operating our jail expansion over its lifetime. It's the reason our county desperately needs to consider other forms of sentencing for some of our offenders.

Our current jail has a capacity of 251 inmates. Over the past six months, Sheriff Jackie Matheny says the jail has averaged 317 inmates a day. The all-time high has been 370 inmates.

"It really creates a lot of friction and leads to violence when you have that many people crammed in here," said Matheny. "When you have more inmates, you have more stuff happening."

The budget to operate the jail for this fiscal year is $3.53 million. That includes everything -- jail uniforms, guards, medical personnel, food, clerical supplies, and utilities.

While jail expansion plans are not finalized, Matheny said projections show the county adding between 130 and 160 beds. Even at the low estimate of 130 beds, that's increasing jail capacity by more than 50 percent. It's doubtful costs would increase by a full 50 percent, but it's not difficult to see the annual jail budget approaching $5 million once jail expansion is complete. That's a big, recurring OMG.

Do we really want to pay so much to operate a jail? And, at that capacity, do we really want about 1 percent of the Warren County population behind bars on any given day? To both questions I say absolutely not.

When I asked Sheriff Matheny about the makeup of our jail population he said, "A lot of our crime does revolve around drug abuse and addiction. A lot of people are in here for probation violations, not being able to follow the rules of their probation, failing a drug test, or not paying what they're supposed to."

The sheriff said common reasons people serve jail time include drugs, theft, assault, domestic assault, driving on a revoked license, and failure to pay child support.

My opinion is we need to find ways to punish some of these offenders that don't involve sitting all day long in a jail cell.

Standard editor James Clark can be reached at 473-2191.