A Springfield arrest leads to a bigger issue with overcrowding in the Bay County Jail

Bay County

BAY COUNTY Fla. (WMBB) — We’re learning more about the man who is accused of a violent attack on a Springfield woman and her two teenage daughters.

Records show he was released from the Bay County Jail a week before the attacks because of overcrowding.

38-year old Jason Dowdell’s local legal problems began on May 11th, when a doorbell camera recorded him taking a package from this Springfield home.

Police arrested him on May 14th on burglary, theft, and failure to register as felon charges.

Springfield Police Chief Barry Roberts said this wasn’t his first brush with the law.

“In 99 he was charged with armed robbery with a firearm, felony possession of a firearm, and homicide,” Roberts said. 

Six days later, with the jail population at least 100-inmates overcapacity, the decision was made to recommend a judge release Dowdell from jail.

Sheriff Tommy Ford said he qualified because this current crime was nonviolent.

“Well as the judge who approved that I think it was a very reasonable decision and no one could predict what someone is going to go and do,” Ford said. 

Dowdell was released on May 21st and ordered to report to a probation officer until his trial.

One week later, Springfield police arrested him for forcing his way into a Russ Lake Drive home, kidnapping and raping two sisters, ages 17 and 19, then threatening their mother with a knife and beating her.

The ordeal took place over 6 hours.

Some are questioning why authorities released Dowdell in the first place.

But Ford said the jail overcrowding issue is complicated.

“Make no mistake this is a serious issue,” Ford said. “We are working with the courts, the state attorney, and the public defenders trying to make the best decisions for public safety.”

Just days before the attack, Ford sent a letter to Chief Circuit Judge Chris Patterson, detailing his concerns about the overcrowding.

It details how the average monthly jail population has grown from 877 in 2014, to 1155 now. 

As of Tuesday, the jail was 130 inmates overcapacity.

The average length for how long inmates are staying in the jail has increased from about 75 to 80 days in 2018 to the current average of 148 days. 

When comparing our jail population to the surrounding counties the issue is visible here as well. 

Bay County has a population of 174 thousand residents and a jail population of 1163 in March 2021. While Okaloosa County has a population of 203 thousand residents and a jail population of 650 inmates. 

The hurricane and the covid-19 pandemic is responsible for some of the increase, Ford said it doesn’t explain all of it, nor the consequences.

“It’s really hard on our staff to be able to manage that and our outside medical costs were several hundred dollars over budget,” Ford said. 

While most believe early release is not an ideal solution, officials say, for now, they don’t have many other choices. 

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