Leaders look at probation center deal

ALBANY, Ga. -- The Albany City Commission has asked the Dougherty County Commission to discuss funding a probation center in a joint meeting later this month.

In a tentative vote Tuesday, city commissioners reached out to its counterpart in county government to discuss the possibility of splitting the cost of helping the state open a Day Reporting Center in Dougherty County.

Both the city and county governments have been mulling a request from the Georgia Department of Corrections Probation Division to assist them in providing the center by finding a suitable building.

After a search, neither city nor county officials believe they own any property suitable to meet the state's needs and the city has now turned to the private sector.

At Tuesday's meeting, Assistant City Manager Wes Smith presented the commission with a variety of options including a proposal from a property owner who has offered to rent them a building near downtown for $2,000 per month, with the state agreeing to pick up the cost of utilities and ancillary costs.

But some on the commission are hesitant to obligating the city's funds alone to the project and would like to solicit the help of the county.

Albany Mayor Willie Adams said the county government stood to benefit the most out of the deal through savings at the Dougherty County Jail.

"I know their budget situation, but for the cost of this rent they could save millions in costs out at the jail. It just makes sense to me," said Adams, who has been an ardent supporter of the center.

Adams told commissioners that he believed that the jail could experience significant savings if the center were to open as it would pull up to 100 probationers at a time out of the jail and into its program.

Dougherty County Jail Administrator Col. John Ostrander said Tuesday that while he supports the plan for the center in principal, he questions projections of substantial cost savings.

According to Ostrander, 63 percent of the jail's population -- which is averaging around 900 people -- is in jail awaiting trial. Twenty percent are inmates or probationers sentenced by the court to serve time in the county jail rather than state prison for myriad of offenses; at least 16 percent are convicted felons awaiting transport to state prisons and one percent are inmates sentenced to jail through the city's municipal court, for which the city pays the county.

The average cost of operating the jail for the county is currently hovering around $47 daily per inmate, Ostrander said.

"It's important to note that there is more associated costs to the jail than just those connected directly to any particular inmate," Ostrander said. "Regardless of whether an inmate is in the jail, we still have to pay for the light bulbs, the heating and cooling of the entire facility, the maintenance of the entire facility so its a little more complex than that."

Ostrander said he believes that the area where the most savings could be realized is in keeping repeat offenders out of the revolving door.

"The way I understand the centers, they cater mostly to probationers like drug abusers who get help with their addiction and don't come back into the system," Ostrander says. "There is possibility for meaningful savings there because we do suffer from a high recidivism rate."