It’s a rare day when the sheriff of Bibb County, or any county, is the bearer of good news. Too often, law enforcement, by its very nature, delivers a lot of bad news to a lot of people every day. That’s natural when the very nature of the job is to lock people up. About the only good news we can regularly expect from the department is that more bad news is being delivered to those who warrant it. But it is genuinely good and unexpected news that our Law Enforcement Center, that can legally house up to 966 inmates, has been on a diet of late and that the inmate population has dropped to its lowest level in five years.
That goes against the projections. When the new jail was being constructed in 2006, there were estimates that it would soon have to expand again. Just last year there was a proposal to add 100 beds to the facility at a cost of $1.3 million. But 2013 has watched those projections go out of the window.
There are a number of reasons for the decline in jail population. While many sheriffs across the state decried the move to up the threshold of what level of crimes would be considered felonies. Most thought it a way for the state to further shift its financial burden for corrections to counties.
The state has been known to take its sweet time in collecting prisoners it is responsible for. And it pays slightly less than half of the cost to keep an inmate in a county jail. But there has been a side benefit that could not have been predicted. Misdemeanors move through the court system faster -- that means people charged get out of jail quicker. That has both positive and negative impacts. Sheriff David Davis gives credit to the District Attorney’s office for moving cases through the system faster, either dismissing cases that lack evidence, or quickly bringing to trial other cases.
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The drop in population gives the sheriff much more flexibility. Some inmates don’t need to be in the same cell block with other inmates. Inmates, who are in jail more due to their mental health than their criminal activity, don’t need to be around other inmates if it can be helped. That’s more difficult to do when the jail is at capacity.
One of the other benefits goes straight to the bottom line. It costs taxpayers a little more than $50 per day for each inmate. In August 2012, the jail was over capacity at 1,018 inmates. In April 2013, the jail population was 820. While any drop averages out over time, the 198 inmate drop would save taxpayers almost $10,000 a day.
It is always a fine balancing act the sheriff, DA and judicial system execute day after day, deciding between those who are no threat to the public and those too dangerous to be set free. While it’s much too early to say that a continuing trend has been established it’s good news to know that the indicators are pointing in the right direction.