OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — The Douglas County Jail is the front door to the criminal justice system. Some inmates stay only a few days--others with more severe charges are transferred to the prison in Lincoln.
Nonetheless, the Douglas County Jail faced a rapid increase in population from May through the end of July of this year.
"We were just shy of 1,400 people in custody. To put that into perspective our official capacity is 1,453," said Michael Myers, Director of the Douglas County Jail.
With ongoing renovations reducing the amount of space available, the jail was completely full.
"The facility was under a good deal of stress. The staff were tired and fatigued. Inmates were crowded," said Director Myers.
Relocating inmates to other jails was not an option because they were also full.
The overcrowding problem had gotten out of hand. Inmates were sleeping on floors, staff overworked and overwhelmed.
But thanks to the cooperation of multiple agencies around the county, that's all changed.
"We are at 1,233 in custody," said Director Myers. "So we've come down nearly 170 from that point in the summer."
When things were at their worst and inmates had started sleeping on gymnasium floors, Director Myers sent out a plea--a letter to local criminal justice partners to work together to bring the population down.
"All of our local partners indicated that they would be as responsive as they could be to our situation without compromising public safety," said Director Myers.
The Omaha Police Department books the most inmates into the jail. They reminded officers of the standard policy of when to book and when to cite and release.
"Obviously if we're filling up corrections with low level offenses but then we make a domestic violence arrest, I mean, where are we going to put that person?" said Deputy Chief Scott Gray.
The people cited and released are involved in only minor misdemeanors--things like traffic offenses and city ordinance offenses.
“We will never release someone back into the public if we feel they are a danger to themselves or a danger to the public," said Captain Wayne Hudson.
The director says that probation has also been actively involved in combating the overcrowding and is satisfied with the now decreased population.
"We've gotten somewhat better and it'll be my top priority to make sure we don't go back to that place again," said Director Myers.