Muskegon County- The inmate population is swelling. So many have been convicted, West Michigan jails are running out of room.
In Muskegon County the situation is so bad, more than 20% of the inmates don't have to do all their time.
In see-through rooms they stand body to body, accused drug users, drunk drivers, thieves, and murderers.
Sheriff George Jurkas looked into the room and said, "Last night we had 50 inmates in holding cells we had no place to put them in beds."
No place to put them, until someone else finishes their time.
But lately Sheriff Jurkas is letting some inmates free early.
Inmate Anthony Carson said, “A lot of people ask about it, people pray about it.”
Carson is in the Muskegon County jail for writing bad checks.
Carson said, “This is way more crowded it's packed in."
Thirty-eight men live in his area. It's a classroom that's been converted to a cell. That renovation happened after the jail population jumped. Now, the jail can hold 370 people. But even that is not enough.
Inmate Janet Tice said, “We work in the kitchen and we serve over 400 trays and last night we almost ran out of trays."
Four hundred and thirty women and men were in the jail as of 1 AM. Too many, said Sheriff Jurkas, adding that it's too dangerous.
So Muskegon County judges are reducing sentences. In 2005, they sent more than 2,100 prisoners home early.
Trudy Brummels is in for failing to pay fines. She's banking that she'll be out by the end of the month.
Brummels said, “Of course you think about it. It's the first thing you think about, you don't want to be in jail."
But Sheriff Jurkas believes early release is not the answer.
Jurkas said, “We need a new jail, however, the funding isn't there right now without a bond issue, a tax increase, or cutting services in different areas the county provides now.”
Still, he said something must be done soon. Last week 24 of the 38 people in Carson's cell got sick. and the problems are only going to get worse...unless conditions improve.
Carson said, "I hope it's my turn, you stay focused."
Muskegon County officials say the early release programs don't apply to violent offenders. And this practice will continue while officials weigh the pros and cons of building a new jail.
Early estimates on construction range from 30 to 60 million dollars.