The Augusta Commission’s $1.5 million budget cut from the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office is for “efficiency savings-prisoner costs,” according to a city document.
Sheriff Ronnie Strength said that means the jail will need to stay at about 1,000 inmates next year. The spending cut was approved in November.
Each inmate costs $45 per day to house, so the jail costs about $45,000 a day to run if kept at 1,000 inmates.
The jail used to house about 1,300 inmates a day. This overcrowding led to inmate fights and officer assaults, Strength said.
To help alleviate the overcrowding, City Administrator Fred Russell said, criminals considered “safe prisoners,” who are not a threat to society or themselves, won’t be jailed.
Strength said people who are arrested for crimes such as shoplifting, public drunkenness or minor traffic offenses and who live in the area are the ones who will be released.
There is also legislation in the works that would change Georgia laws on driving offenses. Right now, offenses such as running a red light can warrant being thrown into jail, Russell said.
Strength said his office supports the law change, but he added that it has come up before and he has yet to see it go through.
“I want to be clear,” Strength said. “This doesn’t mean we are going to arrest less people.”
Some, namely first offenders who the sheriff’s office is confident will return for their court date, will not be incarcerated.
The jails will play a part in next year’s budget. As of early December, the jail at 401 Walton Way is open on only one floor and houses 80 to 100 inmates. The rest are at the Charles B. Webster County Detention Center on Phinizy Road.
Strength said that by mid-January, the Walton Way jail will house only inmates overnight. It will be used simply to book and hold if it is too late to transport to Webster because that jail is still 12 to 18 months from completion.
“A lot more money will be saved when the people can be booked out there,” Strength said.
Both Russell and Strength said the public’s safety will not be jeopardized by the 2012 budget cuts.