Crowding at the Arlington jail broke a record this weekend with 257 inmates booked into a facility designed for no more than 164.
Jail officials said they were forced to put inmates on mattresses in the booking cells and in the common areas inside cell blocks usually used for eating and recreation. They said they also ordered the release of six persons convicted on misdemeanor charges who had been sentenced to spend time in jail on the weekends.
Sheriff James. A. Gondles Jr. attributed the increase to a crackdown by police on local drug activity and emphasized that there had been an increase in inmate populations nationwide.
Gondles said that the jail was so crowded this weekend that "I can't see how we can physically take any more people." He said he may consider contracting with Alexandria to send some Arlington prisoners to the facility there, or house some inmates in portable trailers on county property.
"It's like a rubber band," Gondles said. "You can keep stretching it and stretching it, but sometime it's going to break."
Gondles said there were no incidents of unrest resulting from this weekend's crowding and complimented inmates for their behavior. "I think most inmates understand that it's not a problem that we can do an awful lot about," he said. "Frankly, I think they're being cooperative."
The inmate population decreased to 240 yesterday. Arlington is in the midst of considering a $20-million jail expansion project. Two years ago, the county opened a $2 million, 44-bed addition to the jail.
In April, a consulting firm hired by the county concluded that it would be impossible, given the projected increase in the number of prisoners, to add enough cells to the existing jail.
County officials currently are meeting to decide where to build a new jail and how to finance it.
The latest proposal is to build a 400-bed jail that would be designed so that 200 beds could be added 20 years later if necessary.
The jail houses people who cannot make bond and are awaiting trial.
Under an agreement with the State Board of Corrections, the Arlington Jail also houses prisoners sentenced to a state prison for less than three years.
Most of these prisoners are expected to be paroled after serving six months.
As of yesterday, there were 41 inmates sentenced to serve time in a state facility who were serving time in Arlington's jail, according to a jail official. Gondles said the number of state prisoners was not unusually high.
Gondles said that jail officials stopped short of housing inmates in the gymnasium, a move they resorted to the year before the addition was completed.
Such an action leaves inmates with no exercise space, he said, which further increasing an already tense situation.
"I think the boiling point is much lower," said Gondles.
One employe who worked in the jail this weekend said the situation put a lot of stress on officers.