Anybody wishing to speak needs to apply by 4 p.m. on Sept. 1
The Walton County Board of Commissioners will hold a Work Session and Public Hearing on the proposed new jail at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021 at the Historic Courthouse at 111 South Broad Street in Monroe. The Work Session is open to the public. Anybody wishing to speak needs to register to speak by 4 p.m. on Sept. 1, 2021.
The initial proposal of a site on Church Street drew a swift response from the City of Monroe along with suggestions by city officials of an alternative location on Cherry Hill Road. Chairman Thompson notified the public that he would no longer be considering the Church Street property. However, by a vote of 4 – 2 the Walton County BOC commissioned Precision Planning to do a site layout for another residential location on Baker Street. While both the Church Street location and the Baker Street location would have the benefit of close proximity to the courts, they are located in residential neighborhoods.
Residents have also objected to some of the costs involved, such as hiring a law firm at $17,500 per month and a site plan cost of $15,000 for a $130 million jail construction at a location that is not a popular choice with the community.
Jason Sams, who has spearheaded the petition drive and objections to the residential sites noted in an update to the petition that, “‘We the People’ be consulted in every aspect including funding the $ 130,000,000.00 project, as secretive as the commission has been we are not sure if they would try to pass a bond without our input. The issue is a county wide issue, it will have an affect on everyone who pays taxes in the county.”
What isn’t in dispute, however, is that there is an immediate need for a new jail and has been for several years. At no time has it become more obvious that during the COVID-19 pandemic. On Aug. 19 of this year, the Walton County government put out an advisory on a COVID-19 outbreak in some government departments, including the jail. The wife of one of the inmates reported that although her husband had tested negative, his cell mate had not. The two men, however, were still sharing a cell. She said her husband had several risk factors, including diabetes and COPD and she was concerned for his safety.
Major Wade Harris, commander of the Walton County Detention Center, said at the moment quarantining inmates is hampered by the overcrowding.
“We do the best we can to quarantine inmates, but frankly due to being so overcrowded it is very difficult to do so. This is nothing new for the jail as we deal with this on a daily basis. We have a medical provider here that is here 24/7. We also disinfect the jail several times a day, require inmates to wear a mask, and require them to clean their cell and commons area. They are offered the COVID vaccine but most choose not to take it,” Harris said. “It is a challenge to stay on top of inmates especially with wearing a mask and cleaning.”
Harris said that in addition to the regular jail population, the jail is holding 60 inmates who are sentenced to either prison or a state facility such as a Probation Detention Center , RSAT( regional substance abuse treatment) , or ITF( intensive treatment facility).
“ITF has already contacted us to say they aren’t accepting anyone because of COVID. I suspect the other state facilities will follow suit with the numbers going back up. That is what happened last year,” Harris said. “Right now there is not much we can do about the overcrowding. We are taking steps to try and help this situation along but we are dependent on other factors. The state does not take sentenced inmates on a regular basis. For example, when an inmate is sentenced to prison, he waits until the state contacts us to be transported. So every jail in Georgia is waiting for the same thing. We do house inmates in another jail but that is going to become more difficult with the COVID numbers going up. When jail staff get the virus it gets really tough.”
Harris said on Aug. 23 the total population, including inmates in other locations, was 514. The Walton County Detention Center only has 384 beds.
For a more comprehensive background of the current jail controversy, click or tap on this link for previous stories and Letters to the Editor.