Proposed jail reform affects local tax payers

Tax payers could be affected by recommendations in a proposed state criminal justice reform / File

Dougherty County Sheriff Kevin Sproul says Governor Nathan Deal is trying to fix what Deal calls a broken criminal justice system. Sproul along with sheriffs from across the state were at a meeting in Atlanta where a state criminal justice reform plan was discussed in depth.

One main goal is to add additional courts and programs like those for drugs and mental health. According to the 25-page proposal, drug and property offenders represent nearly 60 percent of all admissions.

"These courts have a little bit more leverage, a little bit more leeway on how they can work somebody through the system and possibly get them out of the jail a lot sooner than they would if they went through the normal every day system as we know it," says Sproul.

Currently, 71 percent of inmates at the Dougherty County Jail are awaiting pre-trial and perhaps can't afford bail, according to jail records. Sproul says tax payers pay approximately $45 per inmate per night, with $22 going to the Dougherty County Jail and the remainder going to the state.

Sproul says specialized courts means less money spent on inmates by tax payers.

State-wide specialized programs â" such as those for substance abuse treatment and day reporting centers -- could also help with recidivism.

"Often times a person's behaviors is the result of a substance abuse issue or it may be the result of a mental health issue in which case those are the issues that need to be addressed," says Col. John Ostrander, Dougherty County Jail Director.

He says there is already a drug program implemented in the Dougherty County Jail system as well as a GED program.

"I do want people to go through the process of paying their debt back to society for what they did, but if we can reform that individual, he or she'd have a better chance to succeed once they got back on the outside and they possibly would not come back through these doors," says Sproul

Another main part of Deal's proposed criminal justice reform would reduce the amount of inmates in the already overcrowded state prison but it could affect county jail capacity and local tax payers' dollars. A recommendation in the 25-page document is changing the felony theft threshold from $500 to $1,500, meaning less felony theft cases and more misdemeanor theft cases.

The numerous misdemeanor thefts would be handled in the respective county instead of by the state.

"Most of that individual's time or all of it would be in a Dougherty County jail or in a jail setting instead of going off to prison. And there again the tax payers would have the burden of having to pay for that inmate," says Sproul.

Ostrander says, "It's a great idea for the state, works well for them; may not be so good for a Dougherty County tax payer because now we're going to foot 100 percent of that bill instead of just our portion that goes to the state to fund state prisons."

The state's Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians will meet again in the next month to discuss revisions to make to their recommendations.

The Georgia Sheriffs' Association discussed a number of other issues with Atlanta legislators, including Deal and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. The following is a breakdown of issues they support and oppose:
Aggressively Support
- Legislation aimed at preventing metal theft by reducing the ability of metal recyclers to purchase stolen ferrous and non-ferrous metals
- Jail Officer membership in the Peace Officer Annuity and Benefit Fund
- Allowing for the electronic submission of sentence documentation to the Georgia Department of Corrections
- Increasing FY12 and FY13 funding for Sheriffs Elect and in-service specialized sheriffs' training through the Georgia Sheriffs' Association
- HB 337 by Representative Gerald Greene which allows members of the Sheriffs' Retirement Fund to change existing retirement options
- Legislation by Representative Billy Maddox providing that the Chief Deputy temporarily fill vacancies in the Office of the Sheriff until a special election can be held
- HB 682 by Representative Allen Peake which establishes general law allowing local legislation for non-partisan races for the Office of Sheriff and other local officials
Aggressively Oppose
- The further reduction of (GDC) prison beds
- The further reduction of (DBHDD) mental health beds
- The further reduction of (DJJ) juvenile detention beds
- The further reduction of (GBI) state and regional crime laboratory resources
- The further expansion of the authority of private probation providers to allow for the supervision of felony cases
- HB 284 by Representative Jay Powell which expands the authority of certified private process servers