Originally created 03/18/03

Crowds in jail cause headaches



Capt. Gene Johnson shrugged off the weekend arrest of one of his rookie jailers. He's got bigger headaches.

What do you do when you run out of places to put new inmates?

"It's like deja vu," said Capt. Johnson, the administrator of the Richmond County jail. "It's like we were years ago before we built the Phinizy Road jail. You had to step over inmates."

On Monday, there were 980 inmates crammed into the Walton Way and Phinizy Road jails, which are designed for 910. Mattresses covered the floors in areas where inmates should be able to move around.

Tensions are high, and assaults are common. Last week, an inmate attacked two jailers, fracturing one officer's nose and another's hand. He was going for the jailer's key but failed.

The firing of five jailers this month for wrongdoing hasn't helped matters, Capt. Johnson said. On Sunday, Deputy Jeffrey Williams was fired after he was charged with selling heroin to undercover officers. He is free on bond.

Administrators are seeking qualified candidates for several positions, and they continue to promise compensation time to overworked jailers.

In 1996, U.S. District Court Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr. ordered local officials to get the population down to a manageable level after he learned 575 inmates were in a space for 340 people. A year later, the Phinizy Road jail opened with 566 additional beds.

"But we're back to what we were doing before," Capt. Johnson said. "People are committing more crimes, and they are catching more people."

The captain said he needs the state to pick up inmates who have been sentenced, or he needs more bed space. He knows budget cuts will prevent the county from approving more jail space anytime soon.

Until then, he expects the situation to get only worse.

"It's a lose-lose situation for the jail," he said.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (706) 828-3851 or greg.rickabaugh@augustachronicle.com.