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Two consultants from the National Institute of Corrections told Chautauqua County officials Wednesday that they need to act now in order to reduce the inmate population of the jail before it grows worse.

Struggling with a space shortage for some time, Sheriff Joseph Gerace sought input from the organization to help ease overcrowding.

Billy Wasson, corrections director in Marion County, Ore., and Robert Cushman, criminal-justice planner for Santa Clara County, Calif., spent three days in Chautauqua County evaluating the situation and then met with Gerace in a public session.

Wasson said the county should consider a pretrial release program.

"There is disparity in the bail schedule between the different courts in different jurisdictions," he said. "We need to focus on (that) and do something that still ensures an appearance in court but doesn't have to hold them in jail."

Cushman said the corrections system typically deals with three types of people.

"There are lots of ways to punish people," he said. "People that you are afraid of, you definitely want to incarcerate and take off the streets. There are lots of ways you can sanction people that you are angry at but not necessarily afraid of."

Cushman added that "there seems to be a substantial number of people that you just don't know what else to do with, for example, some of the mentally ill."

Gerace said the population of the county jail has nearly tripled in the last 12 years. The average number of inmates per day is 221, including a double-bunking variance that last month the state agreed to extend.

"This is not a problem to solve; it is a condition to manage," Cushman said.

Gerace said that "we are looking at the system, and some of this is driven by what people in the county want."

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