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Inadequate staffing at Hall jail leads to Dawson taking in boarders
Sheriff says Dawson receiving no payment to board inmates
Sheriff Jeff Johnson MUG
Jeff Johnson

As of Tuesday afternoon, 14 inmates from Hall County are being boarded at the Dawson County Detention Center as part of the Hall County Sheriff’s Office efforts to reduce the population at its jail due to lack of staffing. 

According to a report by the Gainesville Times, the Hall County office recently began boarding some inmates in other counties and identifying inmates who could be released for house arrest or pretrial supervision.

The Hall County jail is not overcrowded- 689 out of the 1,026 beds in the facility were full last Thursday. Rather, there are not enough jailers.

A full shift of jailers is 24, but the jail has been as low as 18 per shift due to employee recruitment and retention problems. The office supplements with overtime and deputies from other divisions.

Judges, prosecutors and the public defender’s office released 104 by “identifying inmates that would be eligible for house arrest or some type of pretrial supervision through probation,” Sheriff Gerald Couch said.

Others in the jail down to the final days of their sentence were discharged early, while others have been boarded out. Thirty were boarded as of Dec. 15 in Dawson and Jackson counties. Jackson County is receiving $35 per inmate per day; while Dawson is not receiving any compensation.

Dawson County Sheriff Jeff Johnson said Monday that it is not at all uncommon for law enforcement agencies to provide services for other counties at “absolutely no expense to them.”

“For example, just a few short years ago, Hall County graciously housed approximately 12-15 Dawson County inmates for approximately six weeks,” Johnson said. ”This was done to allow movement within our jail to facilitate repair and maintenance.”

Other examples Johnson provided included Dawson County’s frequent reliance on neighboring counties for assistance with SWAT, K9 and dive team operations.

“They provide support without request for compensation,” Johnson said. “If we can pay it back by providing assistance, it is the right thing to do.”

The average cost of housing an inmate in Hall County is about $50 per day.

“Bear in mind that boarding out involves a lot more than just the boarding cost itself,” Hall County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks said. “Transporting board-outs takes two deputies’ time, plus fuel and vehicle usage costs, so there’s more than what meets the eye here.”

Johnson said that it is important to note that Hall County still covers the cost for inmate medical services.

“It should also be noted that they thoroughly screen their inmates in an attempt to minimize any issues to our staff,” Johnson said. “Any problematic inmates are promptly returned.”

The Dawson County jail has bed space for 192 inmates and currently houses 113.

Johnson said however it is a common misunderstanding that all of the inmates are housed together, which could minimize staff to supervise; they are in fact separated into classifications including maximum security, minimum security, female inmates, sex offenders and special watches.

“These different types of classification require that separation be maintained,” Johnson said. “Separation still requires security checks and supervision.”

The Dawson County Sheriff’s Office too struggles with recruitment and retaining officers due to low pay and benefits. Currently, the office is understaffed of detention officers.

The county has one opening currently, and the sheriff requested four new detention officer positions for the 2018 budget, though none currently have been allocated.

A total of 29 detention officers are divided among each watch.

“The shift numbers are not even on each watch,” Johnson said. “With our limited staffing, we must adjust our scheduling and place more officers during our busier times.”

DCN Regional Staff Writer Nick Watson contributed to this report.