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A Trend Of Fewer Inmates In Mecklenburg County Jails

Mecklenburg County's jails were once considered overcrowded. But these days there's a bit more room to spare. Just three years ago, hundreds of Mecklenburg County jail inmates were sleeping on makeshift cots because all the bunks were full most nights. "In fact, in August of 2007 we hit an all-time high of almost 2,900 inmates," says Sheriff Chipp Bailey. That's about 500 more inmates than the jails were designed to hold and consultants told the county then to only expect the number of inmates to climb. But an unexpected thing happened. Three years later the number of inmates on an average day has dropped 14 percent to 2,300. Bailey says part of that is because of a decrease in crime. But he also says criminal justice initiatives that were implemented in 2008 are having an impact. "Our jails were designed to hold people on an average of nine days," says Bailey. "At its peak we were holding people on an average of 22 to 23 days. Now that's down to about 18 or 19 days. I attribute that to some extent to the initiatives within the court to move cases through quicker." Bailey says there's a third factor. The Obama administration named new U.S. attorneys. That process created a lull in the number of local cases being adopted by the federal government. Federal cases usually take longer, so fewer federal inmates mean shorter lengths of stay. Overcrowding hasn't been much of a factor since the county opened a new jail last year that holds 320 inmates. With some additional construction work, it can hold double that. At the current incarceration rate, Bailey says the county can probably do without another brand new jail for six or seven years.