The Corrections Bureau of the Chatham County Sheriff's Department, and its inmate population, has significantly evolved over the past 30 years. For 90 years the jail was located on Habersham Street next to the Police Department. Its capacity was approximately 300 inmates and averaged about 270 inmates daily. The average daily female population was 18 which seems low when compared to the 167 average daily population for 2004.
In 1978 the jail was moved to Montgomery Street next to the Chatham County Judicial Complex. This facility had an inmate capacity of 381 inmates. Unfortunately, this facility was not large enough and as a result we were soon exceeding our capacity. As a result, that facility was placed under a federal court order that set a maximum amount of inmates allowed. It became necessary to expand our capacity to satisfy the court order.
In 1988 the Chatham County Detention Center opened off of Chatham Parkway and in 1989 it became necessary to expand that facility to handle the volume of inmates we were receiving.
It became apparent that we would have to design and construct a facility that would accommodate the amount of inmates that were being brought to our facility. Construction began on a facility next to the Detention Center that was a state of the art facility. We moved into the Chatham County Sheriff’s Complex in 1993 and the Detention Center was tied in to make up the 5 unit facility.
The building boasted a 1224 bed that was supposed to handle the inmate population without fear of overcrowding until the year 2010. Unfortunately we have at or over capacity since 1999 which has led to our department seeking alternatives to incarceration.
In 2005, Chatham County entered into a contract with Deboer Vining to provide a 300 bed temporary housing unit to help relieve some of the population overcrowding. At that time, the Detention Center had an average daily population of 1455 inmates which represented some 2311 inmates above the 1224 design capacity. The temporary housing was only designed as a stop gap measure.
The inmate population continued to climb, promting the Sheriff’s Department and the Board of Commissioners to seek funds for the necessary expansion. A comprehensive evaluation and needs assessment was completed by the Facilty Group in cooperation with the Polote Corporation which identified the need to construct additional beds through phases that would allow the Detention Center to reach a total inmate capacity of 2774 beds by the year 2025. The study promoted a move to add, during the first of possibly three phases, 769 beds to the 1224 permanent beds bringing our total bed capacity for that phase to 1992. We are anticipating the completion of the first phase of this project in late 2011 or early 2012.
The costs for the expansion not only provides for the construction of the additional bed space but also for several necessary expansions to areas that will be further taxed by the increase in daily population. The project will provide for the expansion of Programmatic and support spaces to include: kitchen capacity, warehouse, commissary, medical, Receiving and Discharge Unit, laundry and engineering. Some of the major features of the expansion includes not only the additional beds but also a Video Visitation Center and two courtrooms with public access. In addition to this, the expansion will provide increase space for cramped working environments created by the increase in work load and staff levels.
The 2008 average daily population for the Chatham County Detention Center was 1739 inmates. We are planning on the future while at the same time working on ways to divert inmates from incarceration that could be better handled in other ways such as through work release programs as well as through mental health centers.