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La Crosse County’s jail population has steadily increased over its 20 years – as predicted



This year, jail has seen 13 fights, almost 100 suicide threats 

The existing La Crosse County jail turned 20 years old this summer and, even with an addition built six years ago, the lock-up still fills up quite often. 

When the current La Crosse County jail opened 20 years ago this summer, experts predicted that the demand would grow over time.

The average nightly count has gone up. It was 197 last year and is 211 now.

La Crosse County Sheriff Steve Helgeson said there have been 13 fights in the jail so far this year, and almost 100 suicide threats.

The county has tried many ways to reduce the regular population of the county jail, including sanction programs and specialty courts. Those efforts, however, don’t always work.

“The experts back in 1997 when we opened the Vine St. jail, as well as 2011, when we opened the addition, all predicted that the population would go up rather slowly but steadily and that’s what we’re finding,” Helgeson said, adding the jail still has 57 beds that are not being used now, but could be put to use if the population goes up sharply.

“In our jail right now, we should have 174 (which is) 80 percent of our capacity,” Helgeson said. “That’s generally what we call functionally full.”

Only two of the current prisoners have been at the county jail longer than 12 months.

A native of Prairie du Chien, Brad graduated from UW - La Crosse and has worked in radio news for more than 30 years, mostly in the La Crosse area. He regularly covers local courts and city and county government. Brad produces the features "Yesterday in La Crosse" and "What's Buried on Brad's Desk." He also writes the website "Triviazoids," which finds odd connections between events that happen on a certain date, and he writes and performs with the local comedy group Heart of La Crosse. Brad been featured on several national TV programs because of his memory skills.

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