Overcrowding in the Nueces County Jail has been a major problem for years. In fact, the County coffers are down by $300,000 since federal inmates are not being housed due to the lack of space.

Rarely has the jail inmate population dropped below 100-percent, but the County has what could be a new solution that changes the way inmates are evaluated before they're admitted into the jail.

It's called a "risk assessment," and it's the brainchild of 117th District Court Judge Sandra Watts. So far only a handful of the district courts are trying the idea out.

Within a 48-hour time period through the risk assessment, an inmate is found to be either eligible to be bonded out or remain in jail.

"The law requires us to let them out of jail at 90 days or reduce the bond so they can make it if the State's not ready," Watts said. "Well, it's taking seven to nine months for the drug testing, so the State is not going to be ready in 90 days."

At 90 days the County has spent $81 a day on housing a low-risk inmate -- that's close to $7,300 in taxpayer money for one inmate.

If the program continues, the savings potential is substantial.

"I haven't crunched any numbers, but I think when all is said and done it's going to be in the millions," Nueces County Sheriff Jim Kaelin said.

No one is embracing Judge Watts' project more than Sheriff Kaelin, who for the last two years has been plagued by more inmates than the jail can handle. A good segment of the population there are those who cannot make bail.

"As I've said on many instances, you know, the only people in the Nueces County Jail are poor people," Kaelin said. "People without means."

The Sheriff also credits District Attorney Mark Gonzalez for wading through cases that are not prosecutable.

Judge Watts stresses the point, however, that the public's safety will always come first.