Modena jail plan fails to excite commissioners

Bibb County Sheriff Jerry Modena’s pitch to county commissioners to use the former Virgil Powers School building to alleviate jail overcrowding failed to earn much support Tuesday.

At the commission’s Risk Management, Public Safety & Animal Welfare Committee meeting, Modena offered the idea of using the building -- at the corner of Hawthorne and Second streets near the Bibb County jail -- to house 108 low-risk female inmates, which would free up the same number of beds at the jail for more dangerous inmates.

“The schoolhouse is ideal, because it was already built for that,” Modena said.

The current jail holds 966 inmates, but Modena said the number sometimes exceeds the available beds.

The state’s cutting of funds for state prisons and mental health facilities has put a greater strain on Georgia sheriffs to find room in crowded jails, Modena said.

“The staff is trying to find some way to get it under control,” Modena told commissioners. “We want to use (the school) for overcrowding so we don’t have to expand the jail. ... We’re working under a federal monitor. I need your help.”

Tuesday, Commissioner Lonzy Edwards was the most vocal against the idea, saying the county could do more with ankle monitors or releasing inmates on their own recognizance for petty crimes. If the building is used for anything, Edwards said, he would like to see it used for juvenile offenders.

“I made a vow that I’d vote against any more jail space during my time as a commissioner,” Edwards told Modena. “We don’t know the costs, because it adds manpower and (the county would have to make) repairs to the building.”

Edwards said he understands the overcrowding problem Modena constantly faces, especially with the county forced to take in state prisoners and the mentally ill. But Edwards said the answer isn’t adding more jail space but rather in coming up with diversionary programs and alternative forms of monitoring prisoners.

Edwards said there likely won’t be any changes to the jail situation until the new consolidated Macon-Bibb County government takes effect in 2014.

In other business Tuesday, County Commission Chairman Sam Hart and other officials unveiled the county’s first level 2 rapid-charging station, located on Second Street in front of the courthouse.

The station is one of the first to be built outside of Atlanta, officials said, and will provide free power to anyone with an electric car. While every electric car has its own charger for the home, the county’s charging station can be used by Bibb residents or travelers passing through town.

Tim Echols, chairman of the Georgia Public Service Commission, told those in attendance Tuesday that he hopes to see similar charging stations as far north as McDonough and as far south as Valdosta.

“(Bibb County) is setting the pace for the region,” he said. “We want to make a corridor down I-75 and I-16.”

Officials said the charging station cost about $5,000, but the county got grants and discounts to offset most of the expense.

Depending on the make of the vehicle and how much of a charge is in the battery, it can take between 30 minutes and four hours to charge a vehicle.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.