Understanding the county’s jail population

Burke County Detention Center

Burke County Detention Center

During a called meeting August 30, Sheriff Alfonzo Williams presented the Board of Commissioners with multiple reasons why the county’s detention center is in need of their attention.

Williams pointed out that the facility, built more than three decades ago, was not originally designed to house female inmates. However, since the time of construction, the number of females arrested has increased from an average of 3 to 20 per day.

“I think that is representative of what is happening across the country,” he said. “We just have more females committing crimes than probably any time that any of us can recall.”

A dorm previously used to hold maximum security prisoners had to be converted to female housing. The lack of space means those charged with misdemeanors are housed among inmates classified as violent offenders. A trustee dorm is now housing gang members or sex offenders. Inmates suffering mental health issues are also mixed in with the incarcerated population.

“We don’t have the space to do anything different,” Williams said and pointed out that those charged with petty crimes or DUI are basically processed and released within a couple hours. “This is not a situation in which we are housing a bunch of misdemeanors.”

Four holding cells, located at the front of the fa- facility, are currently housing suicidal inmates. Cells meant for attorney-client meetings are often used for inmates requiring isolation, although the spaces do not include restroom amenities. Seventy-four of the facility’s current 120 inmate population take prescribed medications, including insulin for the control of diabetes. Two cells in the medical unit, needed to be equipped with hospital beds. One inmate, charged with murder, lost his eye during a jailhouse fight. A second inmate, charged with murder, suffered a series of mini- strokes and requires the BCSO provide two nursing assistants.The facility is not handicapped accessible.

“Our medical ward is completely full,” Williams stated.

There is nowhere to “lock down” unruly prisoners in a way that prevents them from having contact with people, putting correctional staff at risk. Bars on the cells do not eliminate the opportunity for inmates to throw feces and urine on staff and other inmates.

The judicial system is moving slowly, adding to the over- crowding. Fifteen percent of the Burke County’s current inmate population has been incarcerated for more than a year. Fifty-two percent have been incarcerated for more than 90 days. Many offenders with charges like aggravated assault, child molestation and rape are held without bond. Some inmates have sat in the detention center for more than three years. It is not unusual for probation violators to remain incarcerated for six months. It’s a long process for inmates charged with felonies who are looking at federal prison times.

The detention center recently lost six employees who resigned for various reasons, including working conditions, low pay and increased benefit costs, Williams said.

A sub-committee of the Grand Jury visited the detention center in December of 2021 and agreed with the Sheriff’s concerns. The jury’s letter is addressed to Superior Court Judge Jesse Stone and points out that with all of the additions that are needed, there is a need to build a new jail. Williams stated that a copy of the letter was sent to the District Attorney’s


“The jail size and housing needs to increase,” the letter states. “There also seems to be a need for a larger nursing clinic and employee office space. With the limited amount of space, it was brought to our attention that employees don’t have a breakroom to eat their lunch. They have to eat outside or in their cars.”

To alleviate some of the overcrowding, some of Burke County’s inmates are housed at other county jails. However, there is a cost to house them elsewhere. Jenkins County takes 10 inmates for $35 per day and Liberty County can take 10 male and 5 female inmates for $45 per day. Other jails close in proximity are too short staffed. Housing inmates further away complicates attorney client meetings.

Reluctant to commit to the construction of a new facility, the BOC decided to address the issue with Augusta Judicial Circuit judges after Commissioner Evans Martin expressed frustration with slow-moving court dockets.

“They hollered they had to have a courthouse,” he said. “Now they have a courthouse and four or five courtrooms and yet they can’t have court to send these people somewhere else.”

A recent quote estimated the cost of constructing a 250-bed facility at $27 million, Williams said.

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