- Associated Press - Sunday, July 19, 2015

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - As Minnehaha County prepares to expand its overcrowded jail, the sheriff says officials should rethink who will be held in the facility.

The planned $42.5 million facility would be full less than three years after breaking ground, said Sheriff Mike Milstead, citing a jail consultant’s forecast. It will need at least 730 jail beds by 2019 to keep up with a growing population of inmates, he said.

A committee endorsed a plan last month that would see the existing 400-bed facility be expanded by 320 beds, bringing the total to 720 beds, the Argus Leader (https://argusne.ws/1CGNfRG ) reported.

“We can’t continue to sustain the increasing numbers of inmates needing secured jail beds without taking action,” Milstead said.

But instead of requesting a larger expansion, he believes the county can do more to decrease the jail population. Milstead is among a large number of criminal justice officials who believe jails nationwide need to be reassessed for their use, especially for defendants who haven’t been convicted of a crime.

A snapshot of Minnehaha County inmates late last month showed about three out of five inmates, excluding federal and other state prisoners being held at the jail, were awaiting trial and had not yet been convicted.

“The sad fact is that many of these people are locked up not because they’re dangerous, but because they cannot afford bail,” said Elizabeth Skarin, policy director for ACLU South Dakota.

Minnehaha County has had some success reducing its population with a sobriety program that’s allowed about 600 people to be supervised rather staying in jail. It’s also piloting a risk assessment tool in juvenile court that helps judges determine whether a defendant needs to be held until their court date.

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Information from: Argus Leader, https://www.argusleader.com

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