Originally created 10/01/97

Richmond jail officials continue to reduce inmate population



Richmond County Jail officials continued Tuesday to meet the population cap mandated by a federal judge while holding onto people accused of violent crime and property offenses.

Jail inmates and staff also pushed themselves to get the facility cleaned up and basic maintenance finished.

"It went pretty good today," a tired but upbeat Sheriff Charles Webster said. Inmates on four wings of the jail now have their full privileges restored because they passed the sheriff's inspection for cleaning, he said.

Tuesday night, the jail population was 409, which is 91 inmates below the 500-inmate cap imposed by U.S. District Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr., but still above the 340-inmate capacity at the jail at the corner of Walton Way and Fourth Street.

Next Monday, the population cap set by Judge Bowen drops to 480 inmates, followed by a 460-inmate cap on Oct. 21. Beginning Dec. 1 - the day Sheriff Webster believes the new 566-bed jail on Phinizy Road will be fully operational - the population at the old jail cannot rise above the 340-person capacity.

By 5 p.m. today, the sheriff must meet two additional requirements to stay within the court order: present a plan to clean up the dirty facility, and a plan to get all toilets and showers and the air-conditioning system working properly. Sheriff Webster said Tuesday he believes Judge Bowen will be satisfied with the efforts.

Sheriff Webster said he plans to talk specifics with sheriffs in McDuffie and Lincoln counties today about how many jail beds they might have available and at what cost. That may be another way to reduce the number of inmates at the Richmond County Jail.

In addition, the state Department of Prisons picked up 13 prisoners Tuesday, he said.

District Attorney Danny Craig said he's not worried that the jail staff will be forced to release people facing felony charges.

"Of the (527 total) inmates in that jail last week, only 284 of them were under my jurisdiction," Mr. Craig said.

"What the reporters and television cameras down at the jail saw this weekend wasn't any mass release. ... It was the normal processing and release of misdemeanor offenders on bond.

"There's nothing alarming to me about what happened this weekend. What is alarming me is the stack of parole releases sitting on my desk today," Mr. Craig said.

Nearly every day, his office receives a stack of papers from the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles which inform him about people being released from prison and returning to Burke, Columbia and Richmond counties. Most serve about 10 percent of their prison sentences before they are paroled, he said.

According to jail records Monday, 28 parolees were being held after they were charged with new offenses and parole violation warrants were obtained. Another seven parolees also were being held on violation warrants, although the records didn't indicate any new criminal charges against them.