The Dougherty County jail inmate population is down to its lowest average level in three years, and that's Good news for taxpayers.
Sheriff's Office officials and prosecutors say they're making the justice system more efficient. The numbers show that effort is working.
The jail is the biggest budget item in Dougherty County's general fund at $13.2 million. Officials say cooperation to cut the inmate population is a big help in fighting that huge cost to the community.
Behind those locked doors at the Dougherty County jail, in August 2010 the average inmate population was close to one thousand people, almost one percent of the entire county population.
But in December 2012 that average inmate population was down to "Most jails are overcrowded, or at least at capacity. We're well below capacity. We're charging fewer dollars to taxpayers than just about any time in my career," said Jail Director Colonel John Ostrander.
Dougherty District Attorney Greg Edwards says all the court officials, law enforcement, and state agencies involved, are working together to speed up justice. "We can get the most efficient court time and move people out of the pre-trial detainee stage that costs the county and citizens money, to a stage from that point where they are part of the state system."
Today the jail is well below its maximum population of 1230. One of their 15 pods is empty, so maintenance is being done on the empty one at a much reduced cost. The District Attorney says reducing the jail population during tough budget times has to also keep public safety first.
"It's a balancing act," Edwards said. "We want to make sure all the people who need to be incarcerated, those who are a direct threat to the safety of our population and property, be in jail."
Sheriff's officials say they know taxpayers see the jail as a necessary expense, but one they would love to reduce. "It they had a choice where their tax dollars are going to go, they would much rather it go to education," Ostrander said.
And both the D.A. and Sheriff's officials say drug addiction and mental health issues are the biggest factor for inmates that repeatedly end up locked up. They agree getting the community better educated, with better jobs, is the best way to reduce the jail population even further.
With state law changing many more felony crimes to misdemeanors, the population of county jails is expected to increase soon, as more offenders serve their time in county jails rather than state prison.
But Dougherty County officials say they are optimistic they can continue to reduce the jail population here. Every month the average jail population is sent to court and law enforcement officials to keep them up to date on how their efforts are working.