Sheriff on jail population: 'The criminals have figured it out'

CALDWELL, Idaho (AP) - Ada County law enforcement officials say efforts to keep a lid on the number of inmates in neighboring Canyon County's jail have made it harder for them to make arrests on Canyon County warrants.

The Idaho Press-Tribune reports the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho sued for jail overcrowding on behalf of inmates at the Canyon County jail a few years ago, and the lawsuit resulted in a settlement limiting the number of inmates that may be housed at the jail.

Boise police officers say if they come into contact with someone who has a low-level warrant from Canyon County, they can't make an arrest, because Canyon County won't extradite that person because of the potential for jail overcrowding.

"For folks who have worked in law enforcement - it will be 38 years for me now - it is frustrating to let people go that break the law and have them in your community," Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson said.

Canyon County still extradites higher-level offenders. About a month ago, Masterson said, Boise officers believed a woman renting a Boise house was dealing drugs. They found she had a $20,000 larceny warrant out of Canyon County.

In that case, the Boise police called the Canyon County sheriff's office, and the woman was taken into custody. But if Canyon County had refused to take the woman, Masterson said, his police department would have begun its own investigation, possibly taking up hundreds of hours of officer time.

Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue says his county has almost completely eliminated lower-level inmates from the jail rolls.

"We only keep the violent offenders now," he said.

The county even houses some inmates in neighboring counties. Elmore County charges $40 per day for an inmate, and Ada County charges more than $60. From November 2013, Canyon County has spent a little over $15,000 to house inmates in other counties.

"The criminals have figured it out," Donahue said. "They know if they go over the county line, they know that we can't house them."

Canyon County prosecutors and defense attorneys meet with magistrate and district judges every morning to decide who can be let out of the Canyon County jail.

Caldwell Mayor Garret Nancolas said that the overcrowding and subsequent releases mean that the Caldwell Police Department releases people before their legal paperwork is finished. He fears the current system will eventually drive up crime.

"We've had the luxury of driving crime down in Canyon County for many, many years," Nancolas said. "But, if this cycle continues, with having no place to house them, I believe that this cycle will reverse."

So far, Canyon County voters haven't agreed to a new jail: They've turned down the last three jail bond proposals.

"I would be the first one to go on the record and say that we've got to do something different in Canyon County, or we're all going to suffer the consequences - and I mean valley wide," Nancolas said.


Information from: Idaho Press-Tribune