TRAVERSE CITY — Several holding cells line the walls of Grand Traverse County jail’s intake area, well-suited places to house potentially suicidal inmates so officers can keep a close eye on them.
But sometimes the number of inmates who require these cells outpace their availability, leaving jail Administrator Bob Hall, his deputies and mental health officials with the difficult task of trying to decide which prisoners are less likely than others to hurt themselves.
“We shouldn’t be making those calls,” Hall said.
Hall described the holding cell shortages while he led National Institute of Corrections consultants Jim Robertson and Mark Goldman on a jail tour Wednesday morning with a handful of county officials.
Robertson and Goldman are studying the county’s criminal justice system this week as some local officials publicly call for the construction of a new jail to combat overcrowding and deteriorating facilities at the current jail.
Robertson and Goldman started their assessment Tuesday at an introduction meeting with local officials, where Traverse City Commissioner Jim Carruthers voiced the loudest skepticism.
“I am coming as a skeptic because I definitely want to know what the alternatives are to building a jail,” he said. “Michigan is a prison state. We have made a huge industry out of this, so we’re kind of predisposed to those ideas.”
The two-hour long tour Wednesday snaked through nearly every narrow, florescent-lit hallway of the jail, including the facility’s two most recent additions -- built in 2004 and 1984 -- and the original, 1964 jail space.
Officials commented on signs of apparent overcrowding throughout the tour, most notably in the minimum security men’s and women’s areas, where a few inmates laid on mattresses spread across the floor because there weren’t enough beds to go around.
“We’re always fighting trying to find a little more room or another bed to use,” Hall said.