An appeal last May by Arlington Sheriff James A. Gondles to county judges to eliminate temporarily weekend-only sentences for nonviolent offenders because of chronic crowding at the county jail "has been honored for the most part," Gondles said last week.
"On occasion, we've had one or two weekenders, but it's been honored. It's a big relief, because we're really jammed again," said Gondles, who is expecting a 44-bed addition to the jail to open about April 1.
Built to house 120 persons when it opened 11 years ago, the jail, atop county police headquarters at North 15th Street and Courthouse Road, has routinely held 190 to 225 prisoners. Last week, Gondles said, there were 185 inmates, of whom 97 were awaiting trial and 20 awaiting transfer to state prisons. Seventeen persons had been sent to other local jails because of the crowding.
The crowding has been exacerbated by the closing of the top floor of the three-story jail while construction proceeds on a $2.1 million addition. The addition, which adds a fourth floor to the jail, should help ease the severe crowding that has required deputies to work at desks set up in hallways because their offices are filled with bunk beds for the inmate overflow.
Gondles asked county judges to suspend weekends-only sentences until the addition was opened, saying he feared the crowding could lead to violence, escape attempts or suicides. So far, Gondles said, none of those fears has been realized.
The housing of weekends-only inmates swelled the jail's population by 12 to 27 inmates at a time when arrests traditionally increase for drunken driving incidents. In lieu of jail, many have been sentenced to work for the county or a community agency.
Gondles said he hopes judges will continue to sentence offenders to community work programs when the jail addition opens. He said he understands the rationale of sentencing people to weekends in the jail so they will not lose their jobs or further strain family relations, but he said he is philosophically opposed to such sentences.
"I don't believe jail is something you should check into on the weekend and check out of on Sunday night," he said. "The judges want [offenders] to have a 'taste' of jail. But if you're going to punish them, why not sentence them to community service?"