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Jail population drops for first time in nearly a year

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By Alice Du Pont

For the first time in almost a year, the inmate population at the Gadsden County Jail is less than 200.

"Judge Kathleen Dekker has done a tremendous job. She wants to get our population down to 150," said Gadsden County Sheriff Morris Young.

Help is also coming from the county judge, the public defender and the state attorney. The aim is the get the inmates to court for trial and either send them to the Florida Department of Corrections or release them, and reduce bonds so that bail can be paid or non-violent criminals can be released. In the past, some inmates have stayed in jail as long as 4 months before going to trial.

The jail was built to house 156 inmates but has consistently housed more than 250 for the past 2 years.

"We're also looking at those who violate probation and getting them on the 'rocket docket,' which is a fast track court hearing. We're getting them processed as quickly as possible," said Maj. James Morgan, jail administrator.

In recent weeks, between five and 10 inmates have been sent to state prison each week. Morgan said in the past there were weeks when no inmates were sent to state detention because court dates and disposition of cases were at a near standstill.

"Now they are being processed as quickly as possible," Morgan said.

Inmates who remain in the county jail system, unless they have medical problems or are violent criminals, serve on work crews cleaning parks, picking up roadside trash and cleaning public buildings.

"The 10-men crews go out each day, 5 days a week and, for nonprofit organizations, on weekends. They have saved the county quite a bit of money. The county has had to hire fewer employees because of the inmate labor," Morgan said.

The next plan is to teach female inmates to sew well enough to make inmate uniforms and mattresses. Inmates can only remain in the county jail a maximum of one year and a day.

"While we've got them we may as well teach them something useful and save the county some money, " Morgan said.

But Young and Morgan aren't getting too happy too soon about the reduction in the jail's population. According to their own figures, there are still thousands of outstanding warrants to be served in the county. Young said there is a plan for that too, and he plans to unveil it in the next few weeks.