In 1983, in concert with the Michigan Prison Overcrowding Project, the State of Michigan's Department of Management and Budget, Office of Criminal Justice, (hereafter referred to as DMB) looked at survey data for the period 1977 through 1982 to examine the problems faced by county sheriffs in the management of countyJails. [7] In 1984 and 1985 the Michigan Sheriffs' Association (MSA) investigated the same topic [8] and then, in a 1988 follow-up, added additional data and recommendations. [9] What all these reports revealed is that Michigan's prisons and, derivatively, its countyjails, face the same overcrowding problems faced by the nation's prisons.

Unfortunately, in most discussions of the prison-jail overcrowding problem, the unique role played by the local county sheriff is often either overlooked or relegated to a secondary role. Once a law-breaker has been arrested and before he has been property tried and convicted, the county jail is used as a holding and processing center. Moreover, after conviction, and depending upon the nature of the crime and the sentence given, the county jail will often be used either to hold the individual before transfer to prison or will be the point where the full sentence will be served. Thus one may say that the county jail is the most fundamental component of the criminal justice system. In this context, to ignore the responsibilities and pressures placed upon the county sheriff is a critical mistake: the county sheriff is the only law enforcement officer directly elected by the people and filly subject to their discontent when things are not as they expect them to be. In addition to meeting citizens' demands that he be actively involved in apprehending criminals, he is required by law to accommodate all other components of a state's criminal justice system through his management of a county jail. In fulfilling the latter charge, as MSA's 1984 study notes [10], in some circles the county jail has become something never envisioned by the average person: the social agency of last resort "saddled with a mixture of one-time delinquents, small-time losers, violent criminals, and social misfits." If this was not enough responsibility for a county's elected chief law enforcement officer, all the studies noted above joined in concluding that in the face of overcrowding in the state's prison system (prisons, in contrast to jails, hold persons sentenced to terms exceeding one year) some Michigan courts are now sentencing to county jails those individuals who, in the absence of prison overcrowding, would ordinarily have been sent to prison. Thus, the overcrowding problem – already evident in county jails throughout the state – is likely to grow worse unless something is done quickly to increase the supply of jail space at the county level, if not space at the state prison level.

Exactly how bad is the current overcrowding problem in Michigan's county jails? The 1983 (DMB) study noted that during the period it reviewed, Michigan's 83 counties were operating 77 jai} facilities which varied in size from a capacity of it 11 to a capacity of 753. Five counties operated lockups and one county did not operate a detention facility. In addition to conventional jail facilities, five counties – Wayne, Oakland, Kent, Genesee, and Ottawa – operated satellite facilities ranging from jail annexes and emergency overflow areas: to security and work release camps. In 1983 the state-wide average age of county jail facilities was 21 years with Keweenaw County's lockup facility (built in 1886)the oldestand Wayne County’s new downtown jail (at that time scheduled to open in fate 1983) the newest. In DMB's 1983 report it was noted that the rated capacity of all jail and satellite facilities (excluding the Detroit House of Corrections) had increased from approximately 6,600 in 1978 to 7,000, an overall increase of 7%. However, over the same period (1978 – 1983) the daily population figures increased from 5,000 to 6,200, an overall increase of 25%. [11]

MSA's November, 1984, study and its 1985 and 1988 follow-ups note that jail overcrowding had actually grown worse since the initial DMB report. Thirty-four percent of sheriffs reported overcrowding in the past, 56.6% reported overcrowding at the time of the 1985 survey, and 74% expected overcrowding to be a problem in the future. Indeed, in 1984 some 30% of sheriffs reported that space limitations in their facilities were such that during certain periods they had been forced to incur annual costs exceeding $1 million to house inmates at facilities in other counties. [12]

MSA reports that by late 1988 the annual number of intakes into the county jail system had risen to over 200,000 and the number of felons within the county system had increased from less than 22 percent to over 50 percent. Counties had increased bed space by over 3C percent from 1984 through late 1988, (to a total of 9,290 jail beds) yet inmates had increased by over 45 percent in the same period so that jail population through 1988 was growing 33 percent faster than available bed space; two out of three county jails were operating at over 100 percent of capacity during each month; and conservative projections. MSA suggested that until something was done to address these problems, all jails in the state would be operating at over 100 percent capacity within the next ten years. [13]

Overcrowding is not the only problem facing Michigan's county jails. All jails in the state are under the mandated oversight of the Michigan Department of Corrections. In its 1985 follow-up study, MSA reported that over 70% of county jails were out of compliance with at least one area of state facility standards. Sheriffs surveyed by MSA whose jails were out of compliance reported that to bring their facilities up to state mandated standards would cost an estimated $470,000 or more. The total cost of bringing all county jails into compliance was estimated to exceed S25.5 miilion. [14]

In the presence of inadequate facility space, another serious problem emerges. Not all jail inmates are alike. If they were, the fact that there may currently be more beds than prisoners in Michigan's county jails would quickly suggest that there is not now anything which could be called a jail "overcrowding problem." However the fact is that in virtually every county jail in the state there are one or more so-called "protective custody" inmates who, penal experts agree, require special attention. Included in this class of inmates are the mentally ill, alcohol abusers, juveniles, the elderly, the chronically il1, drug abusers, those who are suicidal, and those who can be characterized as "passive obligatory homosexuals". Almost 80% of the sheriffs reported that housing the mentally ill was creating a management problem in their jail. Detention of alcohol abusers was a problem in almost 58% of jails. In 1985 some 44% of sheriffs reported that drug abusers were creating a new and growing problem. Overcrowding has added to problems with suicidal inmates, homosexuals and juveniles. (The detention of juveniles in jail requires segregation from tie adult population by sight and sound. A sheriff, to be in compliance with legal requirements, would be compelled to empty an entire wing to detain one child.) Finally, over 75% reported that in the face of growing staff and space demands placed upon county jails by these "special" cases, present facilities and staff levels are totally inadequate to handle the tasks assigned. [15]