In 2009 the Houston County jail had close to 550 inmates. Overcrowding was a concern because those figures are well over capacity. Today, inmate numbers are down sharply.
The jail hits capacity when it reaches 450 inmates. Currently the number stands at approximately 295. That would lead people to believe that crime is down.
However, crime numbers in Houston County are steady. It's how those crimes are being handled now that is different. The number of inmates at the Houston County jail is at an all-time low since the facility was built in 2001.
Criminals are not walking the streets in Houston County because jail numbers are low. They are actually reaching their destination at a faster rate.
"We are working harder to get jail cases tried instead of them continuing to sit there,” District Attorney Doug Valeska. “It moves the defendant's case. If he is innocent he goes home. I he is guilty he goes to prison. Helps save taxpayers money."
That's the difference. Valeska said the speed of trials in the Houston-Henry County courts system is moving faster than it ever has. Whereas just a year ago, it would have taken approximately 150 days or more for a trial to begin, that number has been reduced to fewer to than 120 days.
This has caused a reduction in inmates at the jail, and the process as a whole has been running smoother.
"It eases overcrowding,” Houston County Sheriff Andy Hughes said. “It's less stress on the inmates, and less stress on our staff that is working. It will lessen our costs some on some of the things we have to do as far as feeding prisoners and that type of thing. I don't know that it necessarily correlates to a lower crime rate out on the street."
While the number of inmates at the jail may be unusually low, the amount of work on the sheriff’s department right now is not.
"We have law enforcement officers that go out there and work almost 24 hours a day,” Valeska said. “They work hard. They make cases other circuits won't make. Our law enforcement in this circuit work extremely hard. They want to protect the community so they make more cases.”
Valeska says four of the five circuit judges in the county system are all current on their court dockets as well.
"The bottom line is if you commit a crime in Houston or Henry County and you get arrested, you're either going to prison or going to trial,” Valeska said. “That's the bottom line."
Valeska added this is all possible because of efficient work done by all phases of law enforcement in Houston County. He also added "the taxpayers are getting their money's worth".
Houston County cleared more criminal felony cases from its docket last year than Montgomery County. Montgomery’s circuit ranks third in size in Alabama, while Houston County is 14th.
Valeska said that directly relates to the speed of the system.