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Brantley jail suffers more from lack of state court than cutbacks

Special to SEGAZINE

Sheriff Jack Whisenant told the Enterprise this week that Brantley isn’t feeling the strain of new state cuts like other jails in the region, but other issues, such as a back-log of superior court cases and the lack of a state court are causing some issues.

The 2012 criminal justice reform law reduced the amount of money some local jails receive by lowering some drug-related crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.  The state pays to house inmates until the prison picks them up.  Because of the law change, less reimbursements have gone back to county jails.

It’s an issue statewide but not one faced by the Brantley County Detention Center just yet.

“We at our jail are not experiencing that problem yet,” Whisenant said. “Our problem is housing pre-sentence detainees whether they have felony charges or misdemeanor charges.”

Whisenant said that the local superior court system is so backed up that it is not uncommon for a case to be on hold for months or years.

“We have recently had seven of these detainees who had been in our jail waiting on trial some – some for nearly a year and some for over a year,” Whisenant said. “Of course they had a bond, but it was so high that they were unable to make bond.”

Whisenant said that these cases have been brought to the superior court judge to be expedited.

Luckily a judicial council of Georgia survey found that the Waycross Judicial Circuit does qualify for a fourth judge, he said, which could help alleviate the backlog and bring down the number of inmates waiting long periods of time in local jails.

Getting misdemeanors out of the superior court system could also cut down on the number of cases, he said, but to do so, the county would have to once again tackle a perenial topic – transitioning to a state court.

“Most other counties have gone to a state court system which takes care of the misdemeanor cases much more quickly,” he said.

Overall Whisenant said few inmates actually sit in Brantley’s jail after conviction and instead move to a prison or get probation with only 10 of 110 detainees actually serving out their sentence in the BCDC.

The ones that get prison time get picked up fairly quickly, he said, and the state doesn’t begin paying for them being housed in Brantley until 15 days after they have been notified of their conviction.

It costs about $45 per day to house an inmate in Georgia. For convicted felons, the state reimburses local jails $22 per inmate, per day until they are picked up.

But Georgia’s 2012 justice reform law shifts some of that money away from counties.For example, many property crimes are not classified as felonies.Instead of going to prison, offenders stay in local jails or alternative rehabilitation.

While some jail administrators around the state, Whisenant’s own experience with the change thus far has staid in line with what some, such as bill sponsor Representative Jay Neal of LaFayette have expected of the bill saying he had seen some numbers to indicate that the change hasn’t had a significant impact.

Overall, the changes were meant to save money at the state level, but how much of that ends up falling on county governments like Brantley remains to be seen.

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