Officials concerned about growing inmate population

DES MOINES (AP) — Officials of a jail in central Iowa want to open three empty housing units amid an increase in inmates, but county supervisors hope for other efforts to reduce the jail population.

Polk County Jail has seen a daily average of more than 1,000 inmates this year. The jail neared its maximum capacity of just over 1,110 inmates at one point this year.

Jail director Frank Marasco asked the county Board of Supervisors in May to open the three housing units and add an additional 15 detention officers to staff them. The three units have space for nearly 100 additional inmates.

County supervisors hope to use deterrence efforts to prevent low-level offenders from ending up behind bars instead of granting the $1.1 million request.

The Criminal Justice Coordinating Council is creating a tool to assess an offender’s risk to the community. The tool would help officers determine which offenders can be released early.

The safety of those in the jail is at risk until something is done to address the high number of inmates, Marasco said.

“In a lot of cases, when we’re that full, the inmates know there’s a lack of or no consequences to their actions,” he said. “That affects how we operate and creates more safety risks.”

Violent incidents in the jail have increased slightly with the increased inmate population, jail officials said. Between Jan. 11 and July 27, there was an average of 1.5 assaults at the jail a day, up from 1.4 incidents a day during that same time period in 2016, according to data from the state Department of Corrections.

Marasco said he’s considering scaling down the request and asking the supervisors to open just one additional housing unit and hire five detention officers.