Detention officers at the Pratt County Jail are making more and more stops as they walk the cellblock.
Prisoner numbers have risen in recent months from a previous average of 50 percent occupancy up to 60, 70 and even 80 percent. The average stay in jail used to be two to five days but now it's up to 30 days, said Pratt County Sheriff Vernon Chinn.
It's a simple fact that in society a certain number of people won't work and they get involved in criminal activity and they end up in jail. As the population grows so does the number of people who fall into that category.
Many of these people are non-structured and are constantly unemployed. They eventually end up in the criminal justice system and that means time in jail.
A core reason for the increase in the number of these people is a downturn in the number of homes providing a positive support system. More and more families are following in that category.
"There is a social decay in America," Chinn said.
Part of that support system includes having a father in the home. Chinn said he didn't think any of the prisoners currently in the Pratt County Jail had a relationship with their fathers.
One key to improving the situation is education. Parents need to make sure their children stay in school. An educated person is much less likely to get involved in criminal activity because they can make a living.
Another group of people that is showing up in the jail system in increasing numbers is those with mental issues that have no proper support system. Society doesn't have the answer so often those people end up in the jail system as well, Chinn said.
Mental cases are sent to Larned State Security Hospital to determine if they are mentally competent to stand trial. In some cases those prisoners have to wait in jail for along time until a bed is available in Larned, said District Court Judge Frank Meisenheimer.
Chinn sees prevention as another answer to reducing jail populations. Most of the people who go through the Pratt County Jail are not hardened criminals but have committed lesser crimes.
When these people first come to the attention of law enforcement, taking the time to get the family together and discuss what can be done and what the family can do to support the family member can help get the person moving in the right direction and keep them from getting in the justice system in the first place, Chinn said.
While this action may not change the world, it can make a difference in some lives and is worth the effort.
Page 2 of 2 - An unstructured family tends to pass those traits to the next generation and even the next. On one occasion, Chinn said he had three generations of one family in the jail on three unrelated charges.
Dealing with generations is not an unusual situation. Chinn said for nearly everybody in jail, he had dealt with the parents in the 1990s.
Pratt is not alone in the crowding issue. Many county jails across the country are so over-crowded that prisoners have to sleep on the floor. This has been going on for years in Kansas. Numerous jails have more people than beds.
The longer stays in jail are impacting the detention officers. The best ratio for detention officers is one officer for every six to seven inmates according to the American Jail Association, Chinn said. In the Pratt jail that ratio often works out to be one for every 15 to 20 inmates.
As the number of prisoners increase, the duties of the detention officers also increase. Detention Officer R.J. Runyan's duties include searching new inmates for contraband, fingerprinting, recording charges, handling bond issues, get them into jail apparel and personal hygiene items, calm the prisoners down, keep daily logs, maintain legal paper work, monitor inmates for safety, serve meals, issue medications and other duties.
Booking is a long process. If more than one person is arrested it can get very busy in the booking area.
On court days the activity increases with prisoners moving in and out. More officers have to assist and if an arrest is coming in it can be very hectic in the jail, Runyan said. That added activity has increased the stress level for detention officers.
With all movement in and out, it ties up a lot of staff and they really have to move to get it all done, said Sheriff Sgt. Jimmy White, also a detention officer.
The jail workload also includes reregistering all 60 registered offenders in the county four times a year.