Recidivism is high at the Yakima County jail.

And that has consequences, officials say.

Financial consequences.

More than 30 percent of inmates booked in 2016 returned to jail within six months, and more than 52 percent returned within two years, according to county figures.

One inmate was booked into the jail 32 times over three years and spent 239 days incarcerated over that time. Ten of those bookings were within six months, said Ed Campbell, director of the county’s Department of Corrections.

“He spent very little time in jail for all those bookings,” Campbell said. “We’re seeing the same people over and over again.”

That’s driving up the jail’s overall population, which has swelled to 1,200 at times. The increase led to more than 100 inmates being housed at the county’s second jail on Pacific Avenue.

But that’s not all. Felony criminal cases in Yakima County have shot up by about 22 percent over the past five years. There were 2,062 felony cases in 2013 compared with 2,636 in 2018, according to figures from Prosecuting Attorney Joe Brusic.

“Right now, nearly all of our felony prosecutors have anywhere from 90 to 150 open cases,” he said. “The reality is felony prosecutors have a tremendous amount of work.”

The county’s Office of Assigned Counsel — which provides indigent defense services — also feels the squeeze. Public defenders are bound by case limits under state law, and the office often has to rely on contracted attorneys to handle the excess.

This all trickles down to taxpayers. Costs for law and justice this year total $53,917,871 — nearly 80 percent of the county’s annual $67,473,246 general fund operating budget.

Now, law and justice departments are diving into data on offenders in search of ways to reduce recidivism and felonies.

Yakima County Commissioner Mike Leita, chairman of the county’s Law and Justice Committee, says the goal is to get the law and justice system operating like a smooth traffic system.

“The jail’s population is increasing. That’s a greater cost to taxpayers, and a higher recidivism rate, more reoccurring inmates — that clogs up the traffic,” he said. “I would say in our law and justice system, we have some congestion points. How do we keep that effective and efficient?”

The studies are being conducted ahead of work on the county’s 2020 operating budget, which begins in July, Leita said.

“I think historically we’ve done a very good job at looking at each department and making them as efficient as we can,” he said. “But do we have some straining points that we can address to make things more efficient?”

Brusic finds the jail’s recidivism rate alarming.

“That’s a huge number,” he said. “To me, that means we are not doing something well. We’ve got to address that issue.”

He sees drugs as the leading driver of crime here.

“Drugs, domestic violence and gangs — in that order,” he said of serious felony crime. “Drugs, to me, seem to fuel so much of the crime in Yakima county — it’s just incredible. It drives the robberies, it drives the assaults, it drives domestic violence.”

Solutions may include expanding treatment for substance abuse and mental illness at the jail, Campbell and Brusic said.

The county has already increased mental health services at the jail, offering inmates group and individual counseling sessions, as well as better mental health screenings during booking.

Campbell said his department continues to pull data in seeking commonalities among repeat offenders and will release the information to the public when complete.

“We’re still pulling data,” he said. “We’ve pulled some. There are some surprises. We’re having them double-checked. I think there are going to be some surprises.”

Reach Phil Ferolito at or on Twitter: @philipferolito

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