Some sentences being cut to ease Macomb jail crowding

Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

Mount Clemens — Inmates will be released from the county jail Wednesday evening to alleviate an overcrowding emergency declared earlier this month.

Chief Circuit Court Judge James Biernat Jr. late Wednesday approved the release of prisoners to bring the population down to 1,193, which is 25 under capacity.

Prisoners’ sentences will be reduced by a maximum of 25 percent. Those awaiting sentencing will be released on personal recognizance bond.

“Most of them are the people with bonds,” Biernat said earlier Wednesday. “Their bonds will just be lowered and they’ll be out today.”

All judges were asked to provide names of prisoners who could fall under the early release guidelines. Only the ones on the list will qualify for the sentence reductions or release.

Prisoners who have not been charged or convicted of “a violent or assaultive crime, a sex offense, breaking or entering, drug dealing, or any other major felony” qualify, Biernat wrote in a letter to Sheriff Anthony Wickersham.

Wickersham declared the emergency June 2 after the population exceeded the jail’s 1,218-inmate capacity for seven straight days. A state law gives officials 15 days to remedy the issue.

“We talked to judges throughout the county and we tried to get the count down voluntarily,” Biernat said. “Once you hit the 15 days, it’s not voluntary. Under state law, I have to do it.”

The deadline came Wednesday with the jail population still about 60 over capacity, he said.

The list features inmates who committed or are accused of nonviolent and misdemeanor offenses, such as driving with a suspended license or possession of marijuana, Biernat said. “And there’s also people who are sentenced but their (release) date is sometime in June,” he said. “So let’s say they’re (supposed) to get out June 22 and they’re going to get out today instead.”

The jail last faced such an issue in November, Wickersham said. In response, a judge ordered a 20 percent sentence reduction for certain nonviolent offenders. Seventy-one were released.

There have been 15 overcrowding emergencies since 2003, Wickersham said. The county hired consultants earlier this year to examine find solutions to repeated overcrowding.

Meanwhile, the jail is undergoing about $8 million in upgrades, Wickersham said.