Prisons and jails across the country added more than 1,000 inmates each week for a year, putting almost 2.2 million people – or one in every 136 U.S. residents – behind bars by last summer, according to a recent study.

Cherokee County’s jail population has been up in recent weeks, Sheriff Norman Fisher said.

The jump in jail numbers nationwide isn’t a surprise to Fisher when he looks at his local jail stats. Certain events have triggered some of the high numbers.

“We participated in a warrant sweep with the U.S. marshals,” the sheriff said. “We also just went through our first holiday weekend of the summer season.”

The current Cherokee County jail has a capacity of 31 inmates.

“We work with the DA and the judges to keep it down as much as possible,” Fisher said. “But we’ve got some people in jail for some pretty serious charges, and we’ve got some people who just can’t post a bond to get out.”

Cherokee County is building a new 150-bed detention center. Loyd Bickel, a former Muskogee jail administrator and state jail inspector, has been hired to operate the facility, scheduled to open later this year.

Prisons accounted for about two-thirds of all inmates, or 1.4 million, while the other third, nearly 750,000, were in local jails, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The report by the Justice Department agency found that 62 percent of people in jails have not been convicted, meaning many of them are awaiting trial.

The same can be said of the county jail. Fisher said a majority of those being held are awaiting trial.

A report provided to the Daily Press by Jerry Massie, spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, shows 114 inmates are serving prison sentences at DOC facilities as a result of convictions in Cherokee County.

First Assistant District Attorney Donovan Dobbs said the DA’s office decides whether prison time is warranted on a case-by-case basis.

“We look at the severity of the offense,” he said. “We also consider whether the defendant has prior felony convictions.”

More serious crimes like homicides, rape and armed robbery leave prosecutors with little options other than prison time, if convicted. Dobbs said some of the more serious drug offenses, like drug trafficking and manufacturing methamphetamine, are likely to spur the DA’s office to seek prison time.

“We’re not getting as many manufacturing cases now since the pseudoephedrine law changed,” he said.

District Attorney Richard L. Gray said he and his assistants also consider the strength of the case given to them by the investigating agencies. Some of the less serious offenders will generally be offered probation, community sentencing or drug court.

“We’re fortunate here to have programs like community sentencing and drug court,” Gray said. “But if someone continues to commit crimes, we’re going to look at sending them to DOC.”

DAs have to look at programs like drug court, community sentencing and probation on some cases, Gray said.

“It’s not realistic to send everyone you file charges on to prison,” he said.

Overall, 738 people were locked up for every 100,000 residents, compared with a rate of 725 at mid-2004. The states with the highest incarceration rates were in Louisiana and Georgia, with more than 1 percent of their populations in prison or jail. Rounding out the top five were Texas, Mississippi and Oklahoma.

The states with the lowest rates were Maine, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Vermont and New Hampshire.

Men were 10 times to 11 times more likely than women to be in prison or jail, but the number of women behind bars was growing at a faster rate, said Paige M. Harrison, the report’s other author.

Of the 114 Cherokee County inmates, only nine are women.

The racial makeup of inmates changed little in recent years, Beck said. In the 25-29 age group, an estimated 11.9 percent of black men were in prison or jails, compared with 3.9 percent of Hispanic males and 1.7 percent of white males.

Most of the Cherokee County inmates in DOC facilities are white men.

Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, which supports alternatives to prison, told the Associated Press the incarceration rates for blacks are troubling.

“It’s not a sign of a healthy community when we’ve come to use incarceration at such rates,” he said.

Mauer criticized sentencing guidelines, which he said remove judges’ discretion, and said arrests for drug and parole violations swell prisons.

“If we want to see the prison population reduced, we need a much more comprehensive approach to sentencing and drug policy,” he said.

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