Bibb jail population surpasses maximum

When Bibb County jailers counted heads Tuesday morning, they found 1,017 inmates — 51 more than the jail can officially hold. It was a new, and unwelcome, record.

Bibb County Sheriff Jerry Modena said no inmates are sleeping on the floor yet, but the jail has broken out cots and other alternative bedding to fit everyone.

The news worried Bibb County commissioners, who built a $30 million, 381-bed expansion after a fight with federal officials about the jail’s overcrowding. The new wing opened three years ago.

“We are perhaps heading down some dangerous territory,” said County Commissioner Lonzy Edwards, who leads the commission’s public safety committee.

Edwards told The Telegraph the county may need to look into some alternative measures, such as GPS ankle monitors or day reporting centers for low-level offenders.

“We’ve got an obligation to protect the public, but we have an obligation to protect the purse,” Edwards said.

Modena blamed the overcrowding on the state, which has been closing prisons and mental hospitals.

Modena said 113 county jail inmates were waiting to be picked up for the state’s prisons. The state hadn’t picked up inmates in a week, when it took about 10 of them, Modena said.

Other state problems are clogging the jail. Modena said his county jail is probably the area’s largest mental health care facility, holding 200 mentally ill people on charges of minor crimes, such as public urination, who really need to be treated in a state facility.

And Tuesday, he publicly blamed the state for cutting the GBI’s budget.

Those cuts have meant that evidence gets processed more slowly, creating a backlog of people waiting to go to trial. Some of those people are not guilty but can’t pay bail, Modena said.

He had a sympathetic ear in Bibb County Commissioner Elmo Richardson, who further criticized the state.

“They’re putting the burden on us to solve their problems,” Richardson said.

Commissioners indicated they wanted to again talk with state legislators about the problem.

Any delays in picking up state prisoners costs Bibb County taxpayers directly. Modena said it costs $52.10 per day to house an inmate in the jail, but the state reimburses $22.50, or less than half that amount.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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