With the number of inmates continuing to rise, Park County will have to expand its jail in the near future, Sheriff Scott Steward predicts.
“We’re going to reach a point in the next five to 10 years where we’re going to have to do something, at this rate,” Steward told county commissioners last week.
On an average day in 2017, the Park County Detention Center held 72 inmates — up from an daily average population of 68 inmates in 2016 and setting a new record high for the facility.
Sheriff’s records indicate the increase in bookings was due in large part to a new law that allows officers to arrest someone on the spot if they observe a probation or parole violation.
On its busiest day last year, the jail was home to 99 people, which is near full capacity. The detention center technically has 106 beds, but the need to keep men, women and certain types of inmates separated means the jail will never be able to comfortably house that many people. Opened in 2006, the detention center is designed in such a way that it can be expanded both out and up.
“Are we in a crisis? No,” Steward said, saying there’s no hurry.
However, he believes there’s “a huge flaw in the system” — namely, that people aren’t being held accountable for their crimes, driving recidivism.
The sheriff said that, of the 83 people who were booked into the detention center in January, they’d been arrested 627 times and cited 1,094 times in their lifetimes — just within Park County. That’s an average of 7.6 arrests and 13.2 citations per inmate.
One man had a record consisting of 26 arrests and 46 citations within the county, the sheriff said.
“These people know … probation violation, OK, you’re going to get a couple days in jail, and then they’re going to slap you on the hand, put you back out,” Steward said.
State prisons have also been filling up, creating added expenses.
Last year, state lawmakers considered a bill that would have reformed Wyoming’s criminal justice system to put less of an emphasis on incarceration. As WyoFile described it, House Bill 94 would have placed “a focus on providing supervision and treatment for substance abuse before incarceration,” with the thought that “non-violent criminal offenders could be kept in the community with better outcomes for both them and the state.” That bill was eventually killed after opposition from Gov. Matt Mead and some law enforcement leaders.
In November, the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee agreed to sponsor a more modest bill that would, in some instances, allow the Department of Corrections to impose administrative sanctions — instead of reimposing a prison sentence — when someone violates their probation or parole conditions.
Sanctions could include two- to three-day stints in jail, or up to 90 days of jail time served in conjunction with substance abuse treatment.
Representatives from the Wyoming Department of Corrections, the Wyoming Board of Parole, Wyoming ACLU and the Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association expressed support for the legislation, which will be considered in this session as House Bill 42.
Byron Oedekoven, the Executive Director of the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police, offered that “early intervention is cost-effective in the long-term and expressed support for further funding for early treatment and programming options,” according to minutes from the committee’s November meeting.
Although he doubts it would happen, sheriff Steward conversely suggested that the state could deal with its recidivism problem by investing “in a massive prison system.”
“We’ve got to hold them accountable,” Steward said. “And yeah, it would drive the costs up crazy, but eventually maybe you’d see some progress.”
As things currently stand, he predicts that Park County will need more prosecutors and more space in the jail.
“It’s going to be something for the next sheriff and the next board [of commissioners] to look at, but it’s going to be a near-future expense,” Steward said. “It’s not going to be 15 years down the road.”
The number of total bookings at the Park County Detention Center rose from 1,112 bookings in 2016 to 1,182 bookings last year, an increase of about 10 percent.
Counterintuitively, the Cody Police Department, Powell Powell Police Department, Park County Sheriff’s Office, Wyoming Highway Patrol and Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation all booked fewer people in 2017 than they had the year before (down by about 8 percent). However, the number of overall bookings rose, apparently because of a recent legal change that allows Wyoming Department of Corrections probation and parole agents to arrest people for violations.
“Before the change, probation and parole had to get a warrant for the arrest of a violator,” explained Lance Mathess, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office. “Now when someone is in violation, probation and parole can simply have them arrested on site …”
Along with the increased number of inmates came an increase in the number of inmate assaults. The Sheriff’s Office logged 15 such assaults last year, up from eight the year before.
The Park County Sheriff’s Office saw a roughly 4 percent drop in incidents last year, but it remained a busy one for deputies and other personnel with the agency.
The department’s 14 patrol deputies responded to 10,564 incidents in 2017, an average of about 755 incidents per deputy, according to the agency’s recently released annual report. Meanwhile, the agency’s dispatchers handled nearly 25,000 calls on behalf of the Sheriff’s Office, Cody police, the county’s four fire departments, the Cody hospital and Park County Search and Rescue — a 3.25 percent increase from the year before.
“The men and women of the Park County Sheriff’s Office continually face new and defining challenges as they strive to provide service, safety and security for our citizens,” Sheriff Scott Steward said in a letter accompanying the department’s annual report for 2017.
The number of felony arrests made by deputies last year rose by more than a third, to 90 such arrests. They served misdemeanor warrants and made misdemeanor arrests another 287 times.
Property crime appears to have dropped in rural Park County between 2016 and 2017: Patrol incidents classified as involving auto or building burglaries fell from 32 to 21 and reports of theft fell from 76 to 63.
Violent crime apparently remained fairly steady. The Sheriff’s Office logged 22 assaults and 11 reported incidents relating to sexual assaults last year, similar to 2016’s figures. The same was true for the 32 calls relating to suicide attempts or threats.
Additionally, there was a 15 percent increase in motor vehicle crashes, with 129 incidents reported in 2017. Lance Mathess, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office who prepared the annual report, said deputies made more traffic stops last year “in an effort to combat the increase in crashes.”
The Park County Search and Rescue Unit responded to 16 calls in 2017. While that was 20 fewer calls than 2016, last year’s work included “several high-profile rescues and recoveries, one of which was the most difficult search the unit has ever been involved [in],” said Mathess, referring to a February-March 2017 search for the late Powell Tribune reporter Gib Mathers in the North Fork area.