The day-to-day jail population has fluctuated between November 2009 and November 2011. Jail officials attribute the decline in inmates to a concerted effort by local officials to handle cases quicker.
ALBANY — On any given day several hundred people are fed, clothed, treated medically and locked in cells at the Dougherty County Jail.
The need for jails doesn’t appear to be going away, but a concerted effort between jail officials, the judiciary, the district attorney’s office, public defenders and the probation department is slowly reducing the number of inmates at the Dougherty County jail.
Col. John Ostrander, the administrator for the Dougherty County Jail says that as much as 68 percent of the residents in his jail are behind bars awaiting their day in court.
These are people who, for whatever reason, have been either granted a bond but couldn’t afford to pay it, or have been jailed without bond awaiting trial.
“That’s by far our largest single subset of inmate,” Ostrander said. “And that’s the quickest way that we can reduce our population. If we can get them to trial and get them justice so they either are released, put on probation or remanded to some other time of penal institution, the costs will go down.”
Currently the jail is a drain on the Dougherty County Commission budget, sucking $13.2 million out of taxpayers’ wallets each year. It’s by far the biggest single entity in terms of budget in the county.
Ostrander says a lot of that is tied to inmate population.
“I’d say that the three major things that are impacted by population are medical care, food costs and staffing,” Ostrander says. “While in our custody they have to be treated medically, they have to be fed and we have an agreement with the county that sets our staffing levels based on population so, if the population goes up we have to hire more people, but if it goes down, then there is the possibility for savings.”
When the jail population started to spike earlier this year and was approaching 900 inmates each day, a law enforcement summit was called among jail officials, judges, prosecutors, and probation to hammer out a solution.
“It’s something we have to address,” Dougherty District Attorney Greg Edwards said. “These people were sitting in jail and getting all the amenities while waiting for their cases to come up. So we’re trying to speed up the process ... working with the court to get the cases scheduled and handled so they’re not just sitting out there.”
For Edwards, it’s a challenge given his current staffing levels and the caseload, but he says his office is committed to getting the cases handled expeditiously.
And it appears to be working.
A look at jail population numbers for the last three months of November show that that the numbers are down, especially over last year.
In November 2009, the jail population was hovering around 873 inmates on a day-to-day basis. By the same time in November 2010, that number had jumped to 928.
Last month, that number was the lowest yet at 842.
“I think it just takes all of us working together and focusing on what we can do to get these cases handled right but handled in a timely matter,” Ostrander said.
It’s not the first time that a Law Enforcement Summit was called.
In 2004 when then District Attorney Ken Hodges was in office, a similar summit was called and led to a sustained reduction in inmate population for roughly 10 months. After that period, inmate levels stayed flat for almost six years, Ostrander said.