On any given day at the bottom of the Barber Road hill, Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch is liable for a population the size of a small town.
As of Oct. 30, the Hall County Jail had 766 inmates, though that number teetered near 1,000 people earlier this year.
With hiked insurance costs, larger salaries and a doubled medical staff, the cost of housing an inmate spiked over the past decade. Some of those costs are reimbursed by other agencies that use the jail to house inmates, but the fees don’t cover the true expense.
“With the feds or any of the cities that pay the daily fees, none of that makes us whole. It’s one of those duties you have to perform and it’s a service. It’s not a money-making venture,” Couch said.
The sheriff and his staff are now looking at how they could get compensated closer to the true costs of housing an inmate at the facility.
Hall, Gwinnett, Cobb, Bartow, Floyd and Whitfield counties are members of the 287(g) program, a partnership between local and federal agencies to identify undocumented immigrants for possible removal. Bartow and Floyd counties as well as the Georgia Department of Corrections signed agreements in 2018.
As of Oct. 1, Capt. Jeff Shoemaker said the jail is no longer housing undocumented immigrants through the 287(g) program for more than 48 hours past the posting of bond.
“Within 48 hours upon that person making bond or whatever if there’s an immigration hold … the immigration bus, for lack of better words, comes and picks that prisoner up and takes them to another (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) facility,” he said.
The change has decreased the stays for the average person held through 287(g) from up to five days to less than 48 hours.
“That’s done until we can work out our intergovernmental agreement with both the U.S. Marshals and Immigration (and Customs Enforcement),” Shoemaker said.
The per diem is $53 per inmate for federal detainees at the Hall County Jail, a rate that persisted since the agreement’s signing by Hall County Commission Chairman Tom Oliver in 2008.
Shoemaker said they stumbled upon this policy change when speaking with Gwinnett County authorities, who also don’t house 287(g) detainees past the 48-hour mark.
“It’s worked very well. Like man, we should have caught onto this a couple of years ago, but we just didn’t know about it,” Shoemaker said.
The exact cost of housing a person at the Hall County Jail fluctuates with the population inside. More inmates means a smaller unit price per person.
Taking the population from Oct. 30 and the jail’s roughly $15,589,251 budget, the true cost per inmate is $55.76.
The State Criminal Alien Assistance Program funding has gone down over the years as more agencies sign on to work with the federal government. In fiscal year 2016, Hall County received more than $53,000.
This year, that grant for Hall County will not exceed $45,000.
Beyond the federal detainees, there are local agreements to house inmates between the county and the other municipalities within its limits.
“Some of those agreements haven’t been updated in quite some time, so we’re in the process of looking at our true cost and trying to get the cost per inmate, per day something that’s more fair for us and fair for the cities and feds,” Couch said.
The across-the-board number for all of the cities, which include Flowery Branch, Oakwood and Gainesville, is $39.20 per inmate.
While Couch wouldn’t say how much of an increase it would be, he did say it would try to bring it closer to a break-even point for his budget.
Couch said he hopes to have the new agreements finalized before the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.