LANSING (AP) – Michigan’s 17,878-bed county jail system is running out of space, and sheriffs say it would help if judges and state lawmakers found alternatives for handling drug users and the mentally ill who crowd their cells.

In metropolitan Detroit, the state’s three largest counties all have released prisoners early in the past two months.

Wayne County releases hundreds each month, Oakland County released 179 prisoners in August and is facing another release and Macomb County released 200 in July and about 100 in August.

Yesterday was the 14th day of a crowding emergency at the Macomb County jail, meaning that some nonviolent offenders must be released early until the jail’s population falls below 1,413.

“We’re using all other options available to us for incarceration (but) it’s not looking pretty,” Sheriff Mark Hackel told The Macomb Daily of Mount Clemens. “The situation just keeps repeating itself.”

In the northeastern Lower Peninsula, the 63-bed Iosco County Jail faced crowding recently, said Sheriff Michael Fischer.

“I had to house out 10 prisoners this week to other jails,” Fischer told The Detroit News for a story yesterday. “We’ve been packed for quite a while. There’s talk of adding 60 beds, and we could use them.”

Most of the beds in Michigan’s 83 county jails system are occupied by people awaiting trial or sentencing, or convicted of lesser crimes that come with a year or less of jail time.

About 80 percent of county jails are at or above capacity and about 40 percent have declared crowding emergencies or are near doing so, said Terrence L. Jungel, executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association.

“There’s no room at the inn,” Jungel said.

Sheriffs say many county prisoners are drug or alcohol abusers or mentally ill and belong in programs other than jail. Some sheriffs have asked judges to consider alternative sentences for nonviolent misdemeanors.

That could clear space for those with mandatory jail sentences for drunken driving, spouse abuse and nonpayment of child support.

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