SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - A big shift is in the works for the Chatham County Detention Center that they think will help them better operate and serve their nearly 1,800 inmates. Friday the Chatham County Commission approved funding for 14 positions to reopen a unit at the jail.
Essentially what the commission approved is the hiring of additional staff to occupy unit five. That section of the jail has been unoccupied for several years. It's been renovated and now has the personnel to hold more than 400 inmates, freeing space in other parts of the jail.
"Today I have three people in a two man cell and this is due to the staff shortage because I have people that have to be classified," explained Chatham County Sheriff John Wilcher.
The sheriff has a tough job of putting inmates where they need to be and having the appropriate staff to do so. He says it will be much easier now that the county commission has approved the staff to reopen unit five. He feels doing this will have a snowball effect on many other areas in the jail.
“It helps them good because once you move them around and can put them in certain places and especially in unit five you have less problems because those are going to be the less problem inmates that you’re going to have,” said Sheriff Wilcher.
Unit five, which has sat empty for years, will have more than 400 beds and house low offenders enrolled in jail programming from Operation New Hope, to GED, work programs and more.
While there is a correctional officer shortage, the sheriff is seeking 10 civilian positions for the unit which he feels will be easier to hire.
The County Manager says while they've approved the positions they still have to see where they will come up with the estimated $429,000 for this year’s funding and double that for next year.
“The staff is to look at where we can get it from,” said Lee Smith, Chatham County Manager. “You know it’s a tight year and we’re beyond the middle of the budget. Next year is one thing, but right now we’ve got to go and see if I have savings in some departments that I can amend the budget and pull over.”
County leaders know this will not solve all the problems, but say it’s a start. Commissioner Helen Stone explained the work continues on a different project that will also help ease the jail population.
“I’m just very proud that this community, this commission and Gateway are opening this diversion center soon that will help alleviate a small amount of the population at the jail,” said Commissioner Stone, 1st District.
Sheriff Wilcher hopes to open unit five by late April and believes when its running that it will help them get inmates what they need and better utilize the resources they do have.