COLUMBUS, Ga. – Georgia state jails and prisons are getting more leeway via a new state law. The criminal justice reform sponsored by Governor Nathan Deal will eventually make its rounds to Muscogee County, and the law could impact the local inmate population.
Muscogee County Sheriff John Darr tells News 3 the jail population is hovering around 1,069. With the number of people incarcerated continuing to cause problems with violence and sustenance in operations, a pathway could clear, making it easier for nonviolent offenders to make the most of their time behind bars.
“[We don’t have] to house as many people inside the county jail, giving them some alternative beside incarceration,” Sheriff Darr said. “And when you’re talking about less inmate population, you’re talking about less taxpayer’s dollars being spent on incarcerated people.”
Darr says the prison population trends upward during the summer months. But over the years, the jail has instituted new programs designed to help develop, cultivate and teach new skills to inmates. The ultimate goal is to prepare inmates for life outside a jail cell.
“I messed up,” inmate William Penn said. “And I have to pay my consequences.”
Penn owns up to the mistake that landed him in jail: property theft. He realizes the mistake is not only costing him. It’s costing his family. He takes care of his mother and grandchild at home. His livelihood of working for a meat company for 14 years nearly vanished when he received his two-year prison sentence.
“Right now I’m losing money and bills getting behind,” Penn said.
Waleisah Wilson works with inmates like Penn as they transition from the cell back to the streets. She says with new jail programs on the way, employers should take advantage and extend a helping hand. Muscogee County Jail currently offers Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, as well as faith-based recovery programs. They offer male and female dorms, GED forms for both men and women, and a fatherhood program. Veterans also have an opportunity to build rapport with fellow servicemen. According to chaplain Neil Richardson, the recidivism rate for program dorms is less than half of the general population.
As a former inmate, Wilson recognizes the need for inmates to avail themselves to programs like these to set themselves up for second chances in life.
“I think some of the biggest hesitations that employers make is they feel that there’s going to be some type of risk,” Wilson said. “But what if employers said ‘what can they do with a second chance.'”
Motivated and inspired, William Penn looks forward to making a difference once he finishes serving his time.
“Stay focused and work on yourself while you’re in here because you have a second chance when you get out.”