LAWRENCEVILLE -- The "frequent flyers" at the Gwinnett County Jail have earned that status because jail amenities -- heating, air-conditioning and food, for instance -- trump the alternative: sleeping in encampments in the woods, under bridges ... or worse.
In an effort to reduce the jail's recidivism rate, the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department is partnering with the United Way of Metro Atlanta and the Regional Commission on Homelessness to provide homeless inmates with shelter, drug treatment, job-skills training and crime prevention classes upon their release from jail.
"This program is something I've felt was needed in Gwinnett County for a long time," said Sheriff Butch Conway.
The cost of the program will be offset by seized drug money and will not burden taxpayers, officials said. Studies have shown that one in seven inmates is homeless.
"Further studies show that those inmates who have stable housing when they're released are less likely to return to jail or prison," said Conway. He calls the approach "proactive law enforcement" that addresses "a very complex and chronic problem."
Hapless inmates with no place to go create a health risk for themselves and others.
Lawrenceville police officials told the Daily Post last year that five pedestrians have been killed within a couple miles of the jail since 1993. Four of those fatalities involved freshly released inmates or homeless people known to frequent the jail. Most were struck along Ga. Highway 316.
Once an inmate posts bond, the jail has no legal means to hold them, officials have said.
Demetrius Jordan, Regional Director of United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta, said his agency's Regional Commission on Homelessness has worked to end chronic homelessness and help inmates re-enter society on solid ground.
The partnership "will serve as a model to address tough issues while being sensitive to shrinking resources," Jordan said.