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Jail given $2.5M for crowding

LAWRENCEVILLE - The budget squeeze caused by crowding at the Gwinnett County Detention Center got some relief Tuesday, when commissioners agreed to give the sheriff up to $2.5 million more to house inmates in other jails.

But the new jail tower, which opened earlier this year, should mean the county can concentrate more on housing inmates within its own facility.

The Sheriff's Department had already spent $6.35 million of the $6.5 million allocated for housing inmates in other facilities, with bills for the last month still not tallied, according to Budget Director Kristine Tallent.

During the height of Gwinnett's overcrowding this summer, the county averaged about 600 inmates housed in south Georgia jails, Chief Deputy Mike Boyd said. But the number dwindled to 257 Tuesday, thanks to the opening of the new tower.

The cost of housing an inmate at another facility averages about $40 per inmate per day, Boyd said, with additional strains on the department in transporting the inmate to and from court as well as the burden on the families hoping to visit their loved one.

The tower is opening slowly, one housing unit at a time, while new deputies are trained to guard the facility.

In the past year, the county has hired more than 100 deputies to staff the expansion, and three housing units and a medical unit have opened at the tower.

Boyd said he hoped to open another unit or two by the first of the year.

"As we get the staffing in place, we bring back enough people to fill (a unit) up," he said. "It all depends on staffing."

By the summer, Boyd said he hopes to have every inmate housed at the county jail.

That means next year's budget for inmate housing will decline dramatically. Tallent said the county has earmarked $3 million for 2007.