SAVANNAH, Ga (WSAV)- Republicans in the Georgia senate are looking to push through legislation that would increase the number of crimes where alleged offenders are required to post bond to be released from jail.
Chatham County Jail is one of the largest jails in the state, but their inmate population is at more than 1000 less than capacity.
The Chatham County Sheriff credits that to not holding people on bond for misdemeanor offenses.
However, a proposed bill in the state house could change that entirely.
“Right now I’m 182 officers short, and I’m trying to hire them every day, and if I pack the jail 1600 to 1500 people, I don’t have anybody to look out after them.” Chatham County Sheriff John T. Wilcher said.
Senate Bill 63 would add new charges, including several misdemeanor offenses, to a list of crimes that require a person to post bail to be released from jail.
Crimes like trespassing, forgery, and bribery, some of which the Chatham County Sheriff agreed were not high-level offenses.
So, why add them?
Republican state Representative Jesse Petrea says the bill would make public safety a priority number one – telling me the legislation would take more criminals off the street and prevent repeat offenses.
“I think it’s aimed at a mindset of being more concerned about criminals than victims, which has been a problem we have been dealing with across this state,” state Rep. Jesse Petrea (R-Savannah), said.
“I mean we have people that before, the day they’re released, they’re out committing more crimes,” he continued.
However the Sheriff says requiring more people to post bail would increase the jail’s population, and he says it’s critical to keep the jail’s population down.
He tells me it can be extremely expensive to house and care for large numbers of inmates as well as staff the jail with the number of officers needed to oversee that many people.
“I’m not a debtor’s prison. If somebody gets brought in here for criminal trespassing, and they can’t post a $1300 bond, I’m not keeping them in jail two or three months before they go to court. That has a lot of issues behind it. Number one medical, number two you have to feed them, number three you have to take care of them, and it just makes the bill go up and up and up,” Sheriff Wilcher said.
The state Senate and House of Representatives weren’t able to reach a compromise on the bill at the end of last year’s legislative session, but it will more than likely be back on the table when they reconvene in January.