It was the last day of school and Matt Lewinski was feeling good.
He hopped into his 2002 Toyota pickup, spun a U-turn and kicked up some dust while leaving the parking lot April 24 at Fort Lewis College. A campus police officer witnessed the driving behavior and pulled him over.
Lewinski, 22, said, "I'm excited to be done and graduated," but the officer was unsympathetic and issued him a $150 ticket for careless driving.
"No one wants to get a ticket, so I argued it a little bit," Lewinski said.
Instead of losing four points off his driver's license, Lewinski agreed to meet the officer to discuss the situation and do a ride-along with police as part of his punishment.
"He was a really nice guy," Lewinski said. "We resolved whatever issue we had."
While Lewinski wasn't facing jail time, similar approaches have helped reduce the average daily inmate population by 20 percent this year at the La Plata County Jail, said District Attorney Todd Risberg.
Risberg mentioned Lewinski's case last week during a meeting with the La Plata County commissioners where inmate population was discussed.
Numerous other factors have helped reduce the inmate population, Risberg said, including drug court, intense supervision programs and speedy adjudication.
"I think a big part of this is resolving cases earlier," he said.
The sooner a case is resolved, the sooner an inmate can get out of jail and begin rehabilitation or be sent to the Department of Corrections. Most offenders get the same message by spending 10 days in jail instead of 20, so Risberg supports reasonable jail terms that change behavior while complying with the law.
The average length of stay at the La Plata County Jail has dropped from 22 days in 2008 to 13.5 days this year, said La Plata County Sheriff's Sgt. Bill Homes. The average daily population of inmates was 178 last year compared with 140 so far this year, he said.
Despite the drop, crime levels have been fairly consistent, Risberg said. The number of felony cases is about the same as last year, misdemeanors have decreased slightly and traffic cases are on the rise, he said.