Baldwin County Sheriff Bill Massee's voice penetrated a large audience at the Milledgeville-Baldwin County Chamber's Eggs & Issues series this Wednesday. He offered a different view of county government.
Considering nearly 1,500 county courthouse patrons transgress daily, Massee said the county constitutional officers run a sizeable business mandated for all citizens.
In 24 years as county sheriff Massee said the state jail bed totals have exploded from 9,000 to nearly 45,000, as a cut back on state correctional facilities and increased crime rates all filter to county government.
Running a jail mental health care pushes the local limits. County government must pay for these clinically diagnosed individuals.
Licensed clinicians' visits are few and far between as the jail and local health care providers deal with mental health. Massee hopes Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities Commissioner Frank Berry hears the call.
Money for added community based treatment programs are vital though not expected.
On average, 23 percent of inmates have a mental health issue. Medical and transport costs stretch an already bare bones facility to the breaking point.
“We drove over 70,000 miles last year with a mentally ill person in the back seat of a Crown Victoria,” Massee said. “That costs us money not just miles of gas but time.”
The $13 million Baldwin County Law Enforcement Center helped alleviate a standing $1.2 million yearly cost for housing inmates in Hall County, according to Massee. He said the county built as much jail as they could with maximum capacity near 300.
Since the opening, pods were reclassified to deal with the near maxed out numbers. The new space filled within a week, and Massee foresees overcrowding by summer's end.
“We went from a brand new empty jail, and within three days we had 287 in the jail,” the sheriff said Wednesday. “We can add onto the jail, and to be honest with you, the new misdemeanor changes and parole cutting back I'd be very surprised if we aren't over capacitated by August.”
BCSO employees haven't had a raise in five years. Massee admitted times are rugged.
“Our commission, the sheriff and our constitutional officers have sat down and tried our best. We've cut money and done everything we can do. It's been tough,” he said.
Massee reminded the morning forum crowd that despite these challenges he loves the county and the sheriff's post. He looks to continue an open dialogue with the new board of commissioners for the next four years.
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