By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Warden: Aging facility, re-entry program, key considerations for new correctional institute
1211corrections 6
The Hall County Correctional Institution is a minimum- to medium-security jail, said Warden Walt Davis, “for low-level, nonviolent inmates.” Most are drug offenders, property criminals or probation violators, he said. - photo by NAT GURLEY

Hall County Board of Commissioners meeting

When: 6 p.m. Thursday
Where: Hall County Government Center, 2875 Browns Bridge Road, Gainesville
More info: 770-535-8288

The Hall County Correctional Institute occupies a 50-year-old building that has seen better days, Warden Walt Davis said.

“We looked at the potential of renovating this facility,” Davis said at the correctional institute Tuesday. “We had county engineers and architects come and look at it, and it was their professional opinion that it could not be cost-efficiently done — the building is too old, and there are too many code violations.”

County officials announced Monday commissioners will vote Thursday on whether to move ahead with plans to construct a new facility next door to the Barber Road building, at a price tag between $3 and $4 million.

Although a new facility would run millions to build, it will also house a re-entry program that should benefit taxpayers in intangible ways, Davis said.

“We want to stop Hall and Dawson county residents from committing new crimes and returning to the prison system,” Davis said. “It’s to hard to quantify the cost of rearrest, reprosecution, reconviction and the impact on victims in the county.”

The Hall County Re-entry Accountability Court Transition program will begin a modest implementation in March, Davis said, with five to 10 participants.

In moving to full implementation with 50 to 75 participants, the new building would be key.

“It provides us with the facilities and the capabilities to provide programming and to isolate the transitional population from the rest of the remaining population,” he said. “Our current setup here does not provide for an ability to have a dorm that is isolated, separate from the other dorms. We don’t have the capacity and the setup to do that.”

The REACT program will be comprehensive, from substance abuse treatment to educational and vocational training, Davis said, with a six- to 24-month duration, depending on individual needs.

The idea is that if inmates get the resources they need while still in custody, they can walk out of the door ready to enter the workforce — if not already employed — Davis said.

“We know that the No. 1 factor toward reducing recidivism is gainful employment,” Davis said. “One of the biggest goals of the re-entry program is to provide gainful employment in a sustainable model to these inmates.”

Without an exemption from a Department of Corrections policy, Davis said, the program would not have been possible — according to the DOC, inmates are never held in the county of conviction. That will change with the REACT program.

“We’re going to be targeting Hall and Dawson county residents, people who previously lived in those counties — the Northeastern Judicial Circuit. We’re kind of following the accountability courts model,” he said. “We’re going to be working with those inmates earlier on in the process.”

The new facility would be the same size in square footage, but would hold fewer inmates. Davis said the reduction from 240 to 200 beds would mean an inmate population in closer alignment with the facility’s priorities — re-entry
and work.

“Currently I average about 221 inmates, with a capacity of 240. About 80 to 90 of those on any given day are not going out to work for various reasons. Either we don’t have a detail for them, they have pending charges, they have disciplinary actions, etc.,” Davis said.

The county contracts with the state to house minimum- and medium-security inmates, who then perform free labor for county projects.

Davis said in the past year inmates provided about $2.5 million in projects.

“If they’re not going out to work, then they’re not meeting the mission of the Hall County C.I. to provide work details for the county, and quite frankly, I don’t need them here,” Davis added.

Legislative reforms are also keeping low-level offenders out of the state system, he said, leading to fewer inmates.

“They cost the county taxpayers money if they’re sitting here not working, so we need to right-size the facility, keeping in mind the criminal justice reform, the need for work details and the re-entry program,” Davis said. “We needed to right-size the program to be fiscally responsible to the taxpayers.”

To keep costs down, Davis said inmate labor from the correctional institute could contribute to construction, and noted the facility would continue to provide work details for the county.

A modern design should keep future bills down, he said.

“There will be a substantial savings to the county when we build a more efficient facility,” Davis said. “We have a very old (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system, and utility bills are high.”

Funds for the building would come from special purpose local option sales tax VI, which started in July 2009 and runs until June 2015.

Ken Rearden, Hall County Public Works and Utilities director, said the county has $3 million budgeted and is seeking state money to supplement funding.