Jail overcrowding: solving the chronic issue in Marquette County

Published: Jan. 31, 2020 at 10:18 PM EST
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The Marquette County Sheriff and local court officials are looking into solutions for their jail overcrowding problem.

The county's jail was built in 1975 and designed to hold 62 people. Even after restructuring in the 1990's, the facility is still too small to accommodate the ever-growing population.

"We've had last year, well over 100 people in a jail that was built for 80 people, so there is a problem," says Greg Zyburt, Marquette County Sheriff.

It's not just an issue of overcrowding the inmates; it is now an issue of the jail worker's safety.

"They were assaulting the officers and assaulting each other so we actually rented space from the Alger County Jail," says Zyburt. "We were sending people over there for about eight months. And that would average four to six people per month."

However, officials are making progress in curbing the issue..

"In February of 2019, myself and the judges and the magistrate came up with a jail management plan. That was to lower the population in the jail and let out non-assaultive, non-violent people." says Zyburt.

This involves bond reform, and assessing each case on an individual basis. This means more is being done to get non-violent offenders out of the jail cells, released on personal recognizance bonds.

Charity Mason, Director or Court Operations in Marquette says, just getting your case heard has become an issue, when the county lost of a judgship last year.

"So we have one less judge to deal with a very labor intensive case load, "says Mason. "And that has created time delays."

"That has wrecked havoc on what we can handle," says State Rep. Sara Cambensy, 109th District. "And certainly how long people are waiting in jail to be sentenced."

Cambensy adds, part of the issue could be solved on a legislative level.

"Just simply funding our counties. Making sure that we have enough money for everyone that works in the court system ... that cases are handled expediently."

State Rep. Beau LaFave believes other measures could be taken, like reforming some Department of Natural Resources laws and sentencing guidelines."

"If you are sitting on the wrong part of a boat, when it's in motion, that's 90 days in jail," says LaFave.

With proper funding and a joint effort, officials believe it is possible to reduce jail populations to manageable numbers while still keeping our communities safe.

TV6 did ask the sheriff about the possibility of building a new jail but Zyburt says, the process would be long and expensive.