The number of women going to jail in Fairfield County is reaching record proportions, something Sheriff Dave Phalen attributes to increased drug use.

The number of women going to jail in Fairfield County is reaching record proportions, something Sheriff Dave Phalen attributes to increased drug use.

On Aug. 23, there were 46 women incarcerated in the Fairfield County Jail, an all-time high, according to the Fairfield County Sheriff's Office.

It's a significant increase at the jail, which in 2002 housed seven women.

In 2008, that number rose to 27.

"When I became sheriff in 2001, the average number of women we had in the jail was between eight and 10," Phalen said. "Today, out of 200 prisoners we have in the county, they represent about 50.

"These are really alarming trends. Most of these girls are young -- in the 18 to 24 age range," he said.

Phalen said there's no question that heroin and opiate addiction has driven the increase. He added it's a problem for men and women, and estimated his office will spend about $600,000 to ease local overcrowding by housing prisoners outside Fairfield County.

"We know well over half our prison is addicted to heroin or some type of opiate," he said. "They end up in jail due to drug-related violations, and they tend to come back in our jail more often because of their addictions."

Phalen said heroin- and opiate-addicted prisoners present a number of challenges to his jail staff beyond finding a place to keep them.

Most, he said, are in poor physical condition or have diseases such as hepatitis B, and require a lot of medical attention. He added that many also experience withdrawal during prison stays, and improper treatment can lead to complications or death.

Additionally, Phalen said, the jail staff has encountered a growing number of inmates who have attempting to sneak drugs into the jails.

Options for rehabilitating these types of offenders are limited in Fairfield County, Phalen said. Some get post-incarceration help from treatment centers or nonprofit resource centers.

He said the county is exploring the possibility of establishing a day-reporting center for nonviolent offenders. Rather than being sentenced to jail, individuals could be required to report to a center daily, where they will undergo drug tests, get medications and drug counseling.

"We do have an epidemic of heroin and opiate addiction in our county," he said. "We have very limited space in the Fairfield County Jail and ... I think it's important the community understands what's going on."