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Genesee County Jail to release inmates because of “overcrowding emergency”

The emergency was declared this week when the number of inmates remained above 700 for seven days in a row. The jail’s capacity is only 580 inmates.

That means state law now requires the jailto release about 175 inmates in the next two weeks. The number needs to get to 555 within 12 days; if the sheriff’s department can’t do that it’ll create a list to hand over to judges to decide.

Genesee County’s jail administrator Major Phil Heart says they will not consider releasing any inmates who have committed violent crimes.

“We’re trying to go to the low end people – retail fraud and that sort of thing – not that that makes it any better but we’re still trying to get them out and even if they’re on a tether out of the building there whereabouts are known by us,” Heart said. He says it’s “crucial’ to have space at the jail to book people.

Heart says the Genesee County Jail has had problems with overcrowding for decades. He assumes the economic downturn and more police officers on the streetsin Flint have contributed to this emergency overcrowding situation. In 2012 there's also been an higher than normal number of homicides in Flint.

The sheriff’s department will work with judges to find alternative punishments and release low priority offenders; things like tethers, drug programs, and community service. “People who commit homicide, felonious assault, rape; anything along those lines are not even being considered,” Heart said.

Heart says the situation has been “emotionally draining” for jail staff and not that fun for inmates either. “It does wear on them,” Heart said.

Those who can’t get beds in normal cells are kept in large holding cells. “We give them blankets and such and they sleep in that location,” Heart said.

The sheriff’s department would like to get more funding from the state to ease the situation (by paying for tethers for indigent offenders and paying to transfer inmates to other jails) but it’s unclear if that’ll happen. Requests for comment from the Governor’s office were not returned.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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