Yakima County considers extensive pretrial inmate releases to close shortfall

YAKIMA, Wash. -- Yakima County's plan to use $3-million of road money to pay for jail security upgrades doesn't do enough to shore up the jail's shortfall. The county still needs roughly $1.6 million to balance the 2013 budget.

"It's going to take the whole team in order to address that, otherwise the commissioners are in a position where we just have to make arbitrary budget reductions," said Yakima County Commissioner Kevin Bouchey.

Bouchey said some departments could see hundreds of thousands of dollars in cuts.

Pressure is now on the Yakima County Law and Justice Committee to make up the difference.

It's taking a hard look at getting rid of a lot of inmates in custody right now to come up with a chunk of that money.

One idea would close an entire floor of the Yakima County Jail. In the process, anywhere from 170 to 200 inmates could be set free.

They would be only those waiting for trial on Class C felonies like forgery or shoplifting, not violent crimes and would be monitored electronically until their case goes to court; Cutting extra costs for a bed and meals.

"Why not get smart and start doing that?" said Yakima County Court Administrator Harold Delia. "But we're not going to the point where we're letting out people that are a danger to our community."

Delia says uniform standards need to be set to determine who would be released, which takes cooperation from prosecutors, assigned counsel and courts.

Criminal history, family ties and where they would live are among the considerations.

However, this information would likely need more staff at an added $360,000 to the county.

It's a function that was once performed by the Yakima County Jail but was cut as revenues declined. The recent Law and Justice report recommends this function now fall under the court system.

Delia said he would need additional funding.

The Law and Justice Committee is also exploring how to reduce the number of jury trials and move cases through the system faster.

October is the deadline to come up with a plan. County leaders have to adopt a balanced budget in November.

The Law and Justice Committee meets Thursday morning.
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