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Nebraska jail director seeks solutions to largest population

August 27, 2019

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The director of the Douglas County jail has asked for help from criminal justice agencies after the jail’s population reached a record high.

The Omaha-World Herald last week obtained a letter through an open records request that Corrections Director Michael Myers sent to the county board in July. Myers said the population was at 1,390, surpassing the understaffed jail’s working capacity of about 1,300.

The jail’s official maximum capacity is 1,452, but it’s reduced because of ongoing jail renovations and the need to house some people by themselves. As of Friday, 1,327 people were in the jail, including 55 inmates sleeping on plastic bunks on the gym floor.

Myers sent the letter to local judges, Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer, Douglas County Sheriff Tim Dunning and other criminal justice leaders.

Due to what he called “extreme circumstances,” Myers asked the various agencies to help the Corrections Department in “managing our population.”

He suggested that authorities should consider citing and releasing people suspected of nonviolent offenses instead of jailing them, or putting more people on supervised pretrial release. He also said to increase the use of the county’s Offender Work Program “instead of sitting out fines in jail.”

“I am not asking in any way for consideration of actions which may put a victim or the public at risk,” the letter said.

The jail is also struggling to retain officers as understaffing problems persist despite a pay increase. At the beginning of August, the jail was 55 officers short of its authorized strength of 396. That has led to massive amounts of overtime to ensure minimum staffing levels. Officers logged more than 7,000 hours of overtime in July.

Public Defender Tom Riley said he believes some people accused of nonviolent offenses are being held on bail amounts that are too high, and that more people could be released on pretrial supervision.

But he said his “biggest frustration” is seeing so many mentally ill people languishing in jail because there’s not enough mental health treatment available.

Myers “is doing his best with a very difficult situation,” Riley said.

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