MARINETTE — The population of the Marinette County Jail surged to about 130 earlier this week, reigniting concerns that further options need to be considered to control the census of the 165-bed capacity facility, Sheriff Jerry Sauve told the county board’s Public Services Committee on Tuesday.

“We’ve been watching this closely again,” Sauve said. “There were 130 in the jail this morning.

“Last week at our Securities Facilities meeting, I mentioned to the judges that the jail administrator and I will be requesting a meeting with them pretty soon to talk about additional ways of reducing that number to keep it as low as possible.”

Sauve warned the county board in February that even though the population then was falling sometimes to lower than 110, that a close watch was still needed.

“We will be talking (with the judges) about options rather than housing people for failure to pay forfeitures,” he said Tuesday. “We’re getting tight, it concerns us. It’s a number that we’ve got to keep watching and we’re doing everything we can do.”

Sauve said on Tuesday that the county had six people on electronic monitoring, 13 on Soberlink and that 14 inmates had Huber Law privileges.

Jail Administrator Bob Majewski reported that one of the highest numbers of the jail population is inmates awaiting sentencing for felonies (46 on Sept. 27).

District Attorney DeShea Morrow said Majewski was right when he speculated that a shortage of personnel in the Public Defender’s Office was partly to blame for the high number of presentence felony inmates.

“That’s one of the reasons,” said Morrow, who noted that the local Public Defender’s Office is short one attorney right now. “They’re waiting and waiting, sometimes it takes four to six weeks to get an attorney on board so we can proceed with a case.

“That’s one of the factors right now. And then some of our inmates are awaiting sentences on drug felonies and both of our judges are going to order presentence reports that take about six to eight weeks to do.”

Morrow said another contributing factor is a shortage of attorneys that are willing to take criminal cases in Marinette County. Wisconsin relies on private lawyers for 40 percent of its public defense work, but provides the lowest compensation of any state. Now the state is struggling to get lawyers to take those cases.

“The rate for Public Defender reimbursement is $40 an hour,” Morrow explained. “I think it’s been that way for well over 20 years. That’s a hot issue, not just in our county. That’s something the Legislature is going to have to fix. In the bigger population areas we’re going to have more attorneys (willing to take public defense cases) than we’re going to have here. People aren’t going to be as willing to travel if it’s $40 an hour plus $25 for travel time.”

“Let’s say if you have three people arrested in a single drug bust. The public defenders can only represent one of those people because it would be a conflict of interest. The Public Defender’s Office is considered like a law firm. So then you have to try to get other attorneys in the conflict case and that takes time.”

Morrow said the rate paid to court-appointed attorneys is much higher than that paid to public defenders and private attorneys appointed for some public defender cases.

“They go to the public defender and either or deemed to have too much money or too many assets to qualify for public defender representation,” she explained. “But they fill out an affidavit of what is called indigency telling the court they don’t have enough money to go out and privately hire an attorney.

“The judge reviews the affidavit of indigency and then makes a determination of whether the county should pay for that person to have an attorney. Then they set up a payment plan whereby that person is to repay the county either by wage assignment if they’re working or by a monthly payment plan.”