EXCLUSIVE: Jail overcrowding costing taxpayers

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Marathon County (WAOW) — Jail overcrowding is a growing issue in Marathon County, and it’s costing taxpayers quite a bit of money.

“The year passed, the jail has spent approximately $1.7 million housing inmates in other counties,” says Marathon Co. Jail Administrator Sandra DaLu.

The problem? Too many inmates and not enough cells.

“If something doesn’t change, this county is going to be forced into a very difficult decision,” says Marathon Co. Deputy Chief Chad Billeb.

The Marathon Co. Jail can hold about 279 people, but can only be 80 percent full. Officials say they generally have about 400 inmates that needed houses, meaning more than 100 are sent out of county.

“Without a doubt, it has an impact on the taxpayers,” says Billeb.

Do you know who’s actually being held behind bars? The details may surprise you.

“Our jail is full of people that have delivered or attempted to deliver heroin or methamphetamine,” says Billeb.

89 percent of the inmates in 2017 were in jail for non-violent crimes. Getting them through the system isn’t always easy. The county is understaffed for prosecutors and public defenders.

“We do our best with the resources we have, but  ultimately, right now, our resources aren’t enough,” says DaLu.

A solution isn’t simple.

“We are on a course for having to build a jail, something that none of us quite frankly looking forward to,” says Billeb.

A new jail would cost taxpayers upward of $75 million. Marathon Co. Administrator Brad Karger doesn’t even think that would ultimately save taxpayers money or be the best option.

“We will not solve the drug crisis by warehousing more people,” says Karger.

“I think we’re going to save money ultimately by coming up with a system that recognizes individual needs and helps them work them through.”

The sheriff’s department is working on other potential solutions.

“If we can identify people on the street who would be a good candidate for a program other than coming to jail, going immediately to court and then running through the criminal justice system,” says Billeb.

This problem is not unique to Marathon County. The Portage County Sheriff’s Department says they also house dozens of inmates in other counties.

Courtney Terlecki

Courtney Terlecki

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