Habersham Co. - The first Town Hall meeting got heated at times as Habersham County Commission Chairman Stacy Hall, Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell, and County Manager Phil Sutton attempted to provide information about the jail bond referendum that will be voted on in less than a month.
The meeting was held at the Cornelia Community House Monday night, Sept. 30, and lasted two hours.
“Tonight is about you and your questions,” Hall says as he opened the meeting.
Hall continued, saying “As you know we’ve been dealing with this issue for well over two years. It’s really two primary concerns we have to figure out a solution for.” He describes the two concerns as “Number one is significant overcrowding. Number two which is as significant if not more significant and that’s that we’re dealing with 70 major noncompliance issues at the federal and state level.”
Outsourcing has become a major part of daily life for the Habersham County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO). “Our jail was built for 130 folks, we house 160ish right now, we outsource anywhere from 30 to 60 folks,” Hall says.
This housing out inmates comes at a price. Sheriff Joey Terrell notes that it costs the average cost of housing out inmates costs Habersham County anywhere from $45 to $60 per day per inmate depending on the county.
“They say take your inmates someplace else,” Terrell says after being asked if negotiation on price has been attempted.
Terrell says that other counties are full and cannot take in Habersham inmates.
“We’re not trying to build a jail so we’re not housing out inmates and saving 500,000 a year in housing out inmates,” Terrell claims. “The main point of this is the 70 state and federal regulations and court rulings that we are not abiding by.”
The regulations he references include Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance, classification of inmates, plus failure to provide privacy.
Terrell notes that the hallways are narrow which requires deputies to have to walk sideways if transporting an inmate down the halls. He continues saying that the jail is not handicap accessible for handicapped inmates. He says that due to space, the jail cannot classify inmate by crime level and this can cause a lack of privacy if there are eight bodies to a cell. Another example of privacy Terrell notes is that inmates have to undress and shower in front of opposite sex officers.
Questions that were asked by audience members included ones asking about a multi-county jail if other counties would help split costs for jail for all, plus if it would help to hire more attorneys in order to have more inmates tried and released.
“We’ve actively sought other solutions,” Hall claims. “It’s your money we’re talking about and we know that. We don’t want to spend your money frivolously.”
Hall continues claiming that, “If you build what you need now and you don't plan for growth, you’re going to get all kinds of problems.”
The need for a new jail was agreed upon by every audience member who brought up questions, but it was the cost that seemed to present an issue.
The presentation claims that the $31.7 million costs for the new jail would average $71 per home per year or $5.92 per month per home.
The next town hall meeting will be held on Thursday, Oct. 10 at 5:30 p.m. It will be held in the commission conference room at the Habersham County Administration Building, 130 Jacob’s Way in Clarkesville.
Monday, Oct. 7, is the last day to register to vote for the upcoming Nov. 5 election.