LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) - The La Crosse County Jail operated almost at or above its capacity in 2012.
Even after the jail's $30 million expansion – opening 217 beds – some inmates are still left sleeping on mattresses on the floor.
Sheriff Steve Helgeson said it's not because there aren't enough beds, it's because there's a low, medium, high-risk classification system.
"Someone that's committed a non-violent crime wouldn't be placed in housing with someone who may be very violent," Helgeson said.
The 2012 jail population saw a spike from previous years, averaging 219 inmates in both August and September. That's more inmates than there are beds.
The numbers are making Helgeson consider opening the jail's additional pod. It would make 57 more beds available, but it comes with a hefty price tag of $400,000. That includes the need to hire jailers to staff the pod around-the-clock.
To help offset the cost, the county board budgeted about $300,000.
Board President Tara Johnson said it would only go to the jail if safety comes into question. Otherwise, she'd like to see the money go toward road and highway construction.
"We really built that jail with long-term goals in mind, so having to open that second pod at this stage of the game would really not be our first choice by any stretch of the imagination," Johnson said.
Helgeson said he's working with the courts, probation and parole, the district attorney, among other sectors, looking into ways to reduce the jail population and find alternative punishments for low-risk offenders – for example treatment programs and electric monitoring programs.
"My preference is that we wouldn't need the money. So, that's one of the reasons for the delay in determining how the money's going to be used. It's to give us an opportunity to follow our jail population while we take steps to reduce our jail population," Helgeson said.
The county will hear from Sheriff Helgeson in March and then determine who the money will go to.
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