Jail Jammed: Sheriff says over-capacity population is ‘unmanageable’

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Houghton County Sheriff Brian McLean discusses overcrowding at the county jail during Tuesday’s County Board meeting.

HOUGHTON — With a surging population, the Houghton County Jail is now routinely over-capacity, creating more violence inside the jail and potentially exposing the county to multi-million-dollar lawsuits, officials said at Tuesday night’s County Board meeting.

The board heard a proposal from 97th District Court Judge Mark Wisti on granting additional powers to reduce the jail population under the County Jail Overcrowding State of Emergency Act, but it did not vote Tuesday.

For the last half of January and February, the county has been over-capacity, said Houghton County Sheriff Brian McLean. He said he would be updating the board monthly on the jail population, and giving weekly updates to law enforcement commissioners.

“We’ve been able to manage the population within parameters for a long time now, but it’s starting to get unmanageable now,” he said. “It’s too much for too long.”

The 28-person jail had 39 inmates as of Tuesday, McLean said. There are an additional 13 people on the county’s work crew.

The increased numbers are due in part to more stringent drug enforcement through efforts such as the Upper Peninsula Substance Enforcement Team, McLean said.

Of the 39 inmates, only two are there for misdemeanors, McLean said. He said the crowding had led to more assaults between inmates.

“They’re fed up with each other,” he said. “They’re so overcrowded, they can’t stand the sight or sound of each other.”