Jail no longer housing outside inmates

Published 2:20 pm Friday, March 20, 2009

The Decatur County Jail will no longer be able to bring in much-needed revenue by housing inmates from overcrowded jails in other areas of the state because it now faces overcrowding issues of its own.

At a March meeting of the Decatur County Board of Commissioners, County Finance Director Carl Rowland reported about $300,000 of the county’s reported $1 million budget revenue shortfall was attributed the jail no longer housing outside inmates.

Sheriff Wiley Griffin provided The Post-Searchlight with insight into how the jail works and why they have been forced to phase out housing inmates, that for the past five years, have been brought in from other Georgia counties.

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The jail has the maximum capacity to hold 200 inmates, said Griffin. He explained that when he became sheriff in 1999, the jail held an average of 75 to 80 Decatur County inmates at any given time. Over the next five years, the numbers of Decatur County inmates increased to an average of 120 to 140 at any given day.

Starting in 2004, the jail began housing between 60 and 80 inmates brought in from other areas of the state—the majority coming from Fulton County. The fee the county charged to house the inmates was roughly $35 a day and after expenditures—food, clothes washing, cleaning, jail staff salaries and minor medical care—the net profit was around $25 a day for each outside prisoner.

In a month with 31 days, housing 80 outside prisoners, the jail could create roughly $62,000 a month or more than $740,000 a year for Decatur County.

Griffin said in recent years, the jail has had to scale back the number of outside inmates it accepts as the number of local inmates rose. He attributes the increased numbers of local inmates to a number of factors.

Griffin first noted that since he became sheriff in 1999, the Sheriff’s Office has increased the number of deputies they have employed from 19 to 36. As one might expect, more deputies working leads to more arrests in the county, he said.

He also said that the worsening economy and job losses could be attributed to an increase in crimes taking place in Decatur County.

Also pointing to the troubled economy, Griffin said many inmates apparently are opting to serve jail time instead of paying costly fines they receive in court.

“Many times, a jail sentence will be suspended upon payment of a fine and due to the economy, some people would rather serve jail time,” Griffin said.

The Decatur County Jail is currently at its maximum capacity and as of February, the remaining inmates from other Georgia counties left the facility and have not be replaced.