Adventures on the Jail Committee

Claude Paquin's picture

Some people are suspicious, even envious, whenever they realize someone received some sort of appointment which they fantasize might have brought them prestige, influence or money. Conspiracy theorists may experience relief — or if they are sufficiently neurotic, disbelief — from learning about my recent Jail Committee experience.



How It Got Started

In late January I unexpectedly received in the mail a letter on Fayette County stationery, signed by the then newly-appointed chairman of the Board of Commissioners, Steve Brown.

I learned from it that the county wished to examine its options about what to do with the one-third of the old county jail that was still standing, empty and unused, next to the newer jail and to the Sheriff’s Office which occupies the other, renovated two thirds. I was invited to participate in a Jail Committee that was being formed for that purpose and to phone my response to this invitation to the County Clerk.

Considering my experience with construction, demolition and jail buildings, it would have been easy for me to express my regrets about my inability to make a meaningful contribution, the more so because of my low opinion of committees’ effectiveness in general, the vague nature of the committee, the unknown demands on my time, the obvious lack of compensation, and a host of factors.

I still don’t know how I attracted Steve Brown’s attention on this, and I could think of a lot of reasons to say no.

But there were reasons to say yes. This is the first time in my entire life I have been asked to help out a unit of our government. I am retired and thus have time to spare that does not cut into the production of extra income. And I attended Emory Law School which prides itself in instilling in its graduates a sense of public service.

Moreover I might learn something interesting about the jail, meet interesting people on the committee, and perhaps make a contribution by analyzing any financial options involved, an area of expertise for me, or writing a decent report along the way: lawyers are usually fairly good at preparing memos and reports.

Thus I phoned the County Clerk and told him that even though I didn’t feel terribly well qualified and would not be offended if it turned out my services were deemed unnecessary, I would accept the appointment.

My comments apparently did not discourage the appointing power, which I think turned out to be Steve Brown himself, from putting me on the committee — by then more pompously renamed the Citizens Committee on Jail Infrastructure — and inviting me to its first meeting.

As it turned out, Steve Brown ended up chairing the committee and directing its work. In preparation for the first meeting he had county officials supply us with a list of fellow committee members and assorted documents about the old county jail and previously considered options on what to do about that old jail.


The Problem with the Jail

What do you do with an older yet still serviceable building that once served as a jail and is right next to the current jail and sheriff’s office?

The answer can largely depend on whether you have any money to do something with it, be it to renovate it or tear it down, with or without replacing it with a new better building.

If money is not the problem, then the focus ought to be on what the county’s needs are, currently or in the immediate future, for expanding the current jail. Just as Fayette County has recently learned it is not smart to build a school without having students to put in it, the same can be said for a jail and its involuntary guests.

Thus, it is a broad problem. Our committee learned along the way that it might cost roughly $1 million to renovate what’s left of the old jail, or $10 million to replace it with a more modern and efficient unit. (Then it would have to be serviced and staffed.)

It should be understood, by the way, that the county jail consists of separate pods, or units. There can be one pod for female prisoners; one pod, with cells, for the more dangerous inmates; and one pod for the nonviolent or non-threatening inmates, who share a common room and a dormitory. There’s also an infirmary.

The more flexibility the sheriff can have in allocating space among prisoners, the better it is. It is, after all, his responsibility to keep the jail safe for everyone in it.

So that’s the sort of thing one learns from serving on this type of committee. That does not solve the problem, but it helps our understanding.


Do We Need More Jail Space?

It turned out that the Jail Committee was more of a sounding board for County Commission Chairman Brown than the sort of committee where the members receive information, argue, and vote. There never was a vote called about anything, which as it turns out was probably good.

Until July 1, 2012, stealing property worth more than $500 could earn the thief a felony conviction with a stay in a state prison, while stealing less could bring a misdemeanor conviction with a stay of up to one year in the county jail. You had to steal more than $500 to end up a guest of the state. On July 1, 2012, the $500 amount was changed to $1,500, and thus the fear arose we might have more guests avoiding a promotion to a state prison and staying in our county jail, and thus might need to expand our county jail.

This is where having a lawyer (like me) on the committee might have proven helpful.

It turns out, after I did some research, that our Georgia legislature raised that amount at the same time it decided to stop the expensive process of putting more and more nonviolent people in prison, and to devote funding instead to expanding its probation and supervision services.

Some legislators may have seen merit in making a greater effort at rehabilitation, and some may have simply liked the idea of saving money, but either way they reached the same conclusion.

The idea was not, as argued or feared by some, to slough off a bunch of prisoners on the counties so that their housing costs would be picked up by county taxpayers instead of the state. Some people entertain nasty ideas about everything right off the bat.

Sure enough, our own Fayette jail statistics are not yet showing a measurable increase in inmates. In 2012 we averaged 272 inmates daily in a jail that can hold 384, plus 20 in the infirmary. On average they stay 24 days. The averages were 291 in 2010 and 292 in 2011.

Keep in mind that the number of inmates fluctuates day by day, and that the sheriff has to be ready for the highest number that may come in, as he is not free to turn down guests because the hotel is full. Sooner or later, we will have to expand that hotel, just as sooner or later the school board’s empty schools might fill up, so it’s all a matter of timing.

Another discovery I came to make from serving on this committee, after doing some research, was that the Georgia Department of Corrections (DOC) publishes, on its website, a weekly Friday Report which shows the number of people in our Georgia prisons, and the number of people in our county jails (not individually by county but for the state as a whole). These reports, which offer details about the sex, age, race and types of crime of the inmates, are truly fascinating.

Over many months now, the Georgia inmate population has indeed been trending down. Our state prisons housed 61,482 inmates on July 27, 2012, and 58,324 on July 19, 2013; statewide our county jails held 38,372 inmates in June 2012, and 36,584 (77.7 percent of their bed capacity) in June 2013. That’s a one-year decrease of 5 percent for each. That is good news for the taxpayers, and it may be a sign the criminal justice reforms undertaken by our Georgia legislature are working.

Some people have entertained the notion that if we built extra jail space we could possibly offset part of the cost by renting out some of our spare space to nearby counties with an overflow of inmates. But when inmate counts are going mostly down all across the state, how likely is the demand for that? As the sheriff bears some responsibility for the medical needs of inmates, it becomes easy to see that trying to turn a jail into a business might not be a good idea.


Who Served on the Jail Committee

The media initially picked up the names of the Jail Committee members, and the county supplied me later with the list, which included Sheriff Barry Babb; Tommy Turner and Scott Bradshaw, both described as local businessmen; Bernie McMullen, former Peachtree City manager; Chuck Watkins, former county water committee chairman; Bob Ross, photographer; Bess Stevens; and Nova Brown.

It would be up to Steve Brown to explain why he chose these individuals. At the outset I had no idea who might serve with me on the committee, and mere names don’t tell you much unless an individual happens to be an acquaintance or has somehow been in the news.

I did pick up somewhere that one of our members was the head of the Fayette Tea Party; a conversation with another member brought out that she had a master’s degree in Criminal Justice.

As it turned out, our committee had the benefit of the presence of three members of the Sheriff’s Department: the sheriff himself and two captains (Anthony Rhodes and Charlie Cowart) in charge of jail operations.

Their comments were most useful to our understanding of many aspects of jail operations and of the history that brought us to current conditions. As an aside, I might tell you that the physical size of these two captains would easily send to prisoners a message of don’t mess with me.


Meetings of the Jail Committee

Steve Brown called our first meeting for the evening of March 5, and we eventually had a jail visit (March 27) and one more meeting (April 3), where a representative of the architectural firm of Mallett Consulting, Inc. provided information that supplemented two previous professional reports we were given to read about options for the jail.

Our meetings were skillfully run by Steve Brown, and everyone had a fair opportunity to speak and present his views.

I personally sent written memos (by email) to my fellow committee members on the results of my research on criminal justice reform and jail populations, and on the proper use of population statistics to forecast space needs, be they for schools or jails, as increases in retirees attracted by the charms of Peachtree City may swell the overall population but don’t increase the demand for either jails or schools. I was able to expand on that at the meetings.

You can be sure that suggestions were made, but not by me, that we avoid jail expenses by keeping criminals out of Fayette County, either by warning signs or strategically placed patrol cars at the county line, with either a decoy or live patrolman; or that we hire retired (senior) judges to try people in our county jail sooner and get them out of there sooner. Upon reflection, that made the meetings more interesting.

You can sense the frustration of taxpayers who resent shelling out money for crime, though they might be the same people who contribute to sports figures’ multi-million-dollar salaries and support a hugely expensive defense system which the Pentagon does not even want.


Where We Go from Here

As it seems the county does not have the money and the old jail presents no imminent threat or hazard, I suspect that, for a while at least, nothing will happen.

Meanwhile, we can watch what’s happening to our jail population, the size of which depends in part on whether our judges embrace the criminal justice reforms that keep nonviolent people out of jail but under close supervision, working and supporting their family, or stick to the old harsh ways.

I am not unhappy to have been given the opportunity to present a different and more positive perspective on the whole issue of jailing people. Once in a while our elected officials need to hear from the citizens who don’t join the howling hanging mobs, and I hope those who heard from me came to appreciate the calming effect of scientific research and sober reflection.

[A Fayette County resident, Claude Y. Paquin is retired lawyer and actuary who first met Steve Brown while making a scholarly presentation, in July 2000, to a large citizens group interested in financing the construction of new public schools with new taxes.]

ginga1414
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Well Said, Suggar

Harold Bost is one of the most caring people I know. He truly loves Fayette County and works every single day to make life better for all Fayette citizens. I've watched him give his time, knowledge and himself to any cause that affects the citizens here. More importantly, Harold is devoted to his family. He has cared for and sat up at night with his wife for months during many life threatening health issues.

I'm proud to know Harold and to call him my friend.

Steve Brown and our current commissioners have done more to open the very closed lines of communication between all Fayette citizens and our local government than any others in the last 45 years. He has made it a priority to bring in a host of talented and knowledgable people throughout the county to serve in various capacities. We are all better off for his efforts. Our county commission meetings have gone from sterile, somber, and down right scary to accepting, informative, and comfortable. In my opinion, the folks here who constantly ridicule Steve Brown have never attended even one of our commission meetings.

Personally speaking, the true mark of a man can be found in his love for his wife and children. The devotion, love, and pride shines all around Steve when he talks about, and interacts with his wife and daughters.

Plain and simple, the nay sayers here don't truly know Harold and Steve.

yada yada yada
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Bost

Just how are you so sure that Bost did not claim homestead exemption on his Florida home, Mr. Citizen Bob? Did you even live here then? I think not. You are just taking the old coot's word for it. Others had the facts in writing and presented it to him at the time and he resigned to save the public embarrassment. He should have had to pay for that special election just a couple of months into his second term.

AtHomeGym
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Y3 & Bost

Don't know Bost but if you would do your research (simple Google search works) you'll discover a video where Bost had a meeting and provided copies of documents proving that he did not claim Fl as a residence on Tax documents. And at this point, to quote a former Secy of State, "WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE?"

Citizen Bob
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They had no such facts, just a score to settle

Realize that the burden of proof rests squarely on you, not whom you accuse.

You may gain at least some credibility when you stop hiding behind y3 and own up to your opinions.

Bob Ross

P.S. What have YOU done for Fayette County?

Husband and Fat...
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Citizen Bob - it's all about perception

You choose to believe the man.

Others see someone who resigned under a cloud of controversy, threatened lawsuits, but never followed through with the rhetoric. One must wonder why not.

In the business world when you need to let someone go (fired) and who may have been liked by some, you sometimes allow the person to save face. On the surface, this is what many perceive happened.

I don't know the truth, nor do I really care. All I know is that you nor anyone else has been able to provide proof either.

PS. I spent the day (7am - 6:30) on Memorial Drive downtown by the prison, providing my expertise free of cost to a non profit needing help.

Citizen Bob
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It's not just a perception. I have seen...

- His Fayette County voter registration record, provided by the GA Secretary of State through the Fayette County Supervisor of elections
- A letter signed by the Supervisor of Elections in the county of his FL property, stating that he had never been registered to vote there.
- His Fayette County property tax record
- His spouse in the hospital

What I haven't seen is a single source document to support detractors' accusations.

Thank you for your community service, Bob Ross

PTC Observer
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Mr. Paquin - First

First let me thank you for spending the time and effort on our behalf. Secondly, I find this missive to be enjoyable to read and informative. Finally, I have an idea on how to best use the old facilities. Don't do anything to them, keep them just the way they are, no lights, air conditioning, "facilities", etc. Then let's put some of the conspiracy bloggers on this site in a cell of their own, until they come to their senses.

Citizen Bob
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Those pesky facts, Naturegrl

Seems like some political barfly resurrects this fairy tale every few years- last time it was "Save Fayette".

http://www.thecitizen.com/blogs/cal-beverly/07-21-2010/lessons-be-learne...

Research the facts before attempting to publicly malign someone's character. And if you believe it enough to say it publicly, own up to your opinion with your actual identity instead of hiding behind a pseudonym.

Bob Ross
Peachtree City, GA

naturegrl
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Harold Bost

So Mr. Brown and Mr. Ross, give me the true facts as to why Harold Bost resigned from the county commission???????

NUK_1
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He moved to Florida shortly after being elected

That's why there was a need for a special election because he gave up his seat. Then he moved back to FC and is now Bost Hogg amongst the Tea Partiers.

What all of his acolytes will never discuss is how many illegals worked at the sweatshop ESTEX in Fairburn, Bost's former company that he has since sold. They will NEVER mention anything about that, just like Brown's previous position on district voting and his opinion on how bigoted everyone else was. Never hear a peep about that because they drink the Kool-Aid and accept it all 100% without question.

You're not dealing with the biggest thinkers on the planet here.

AtHomeGym
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Nuk & Bost's hiring practices

One question here: Did he do anything illegal? New subj: Azul Tequila. Been there yet? Originally Buckhead Brewery. Went for lunch last week. You'll find Menu items not found in the average Mexi restaurant. Food was good and Dos Equis Lager not bad either!

NUK_1
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AHG: Azul Tequila

Haven't tried it yet and might have to do lunch there this weekend! I wasn't a big fan of El Reposo and the Buckhead Brewery was kind of so-so for the money. That's a nice building and I'd like something to make a successful run at the location.

Steve Brown
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Good grief guys

First of all, half the people on this committee did not support my side in my election. But that did not matter as we wanted a well-rounded group of participants. And we got a great group.

Second, Naturegrl (channeling Lee Hearn) is trying - again - to convince people that Harold Bost switched his primary residence to Florida back when he was on the Board of Commissioners. That is just blatantly untrue. If it were true, I can assure you that the dark side would have had it on the front page of every newspaper - documented.

It's too bad that the opposition has nothing substantive to complain about, so they just try to distort the truth instead and hope people will believe it.

Claude Paquin is one of Fayette County's intelligent thinkers and I always enjoy getting his take on an issue. The sad part is he would have never been asked to participate by previous boards.

For the record, the Citizens' Committee on Ethics was assembled by asking the TEA Party to provide half the members and the NAACP to provide the other half. You cannot get more diversity than that. Those committee members, too, would have never been chosen by previous boards.

We get great work from both committees.

johenry
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Oh the haters are back

Whine, whine, whine!!!

The new guys are doing a great job and the haters can't stand it. Three cheers for the good guys. It's nice guys like Mr. Paquin now get a chance to participate!!!

Husband and Fat...
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Fine people

They are all fine people. The majority just happen to be supporters of Brown. Just like past committees were a reflection of commission majority. Of course this is certainly more transparent because openings are posted.

naturegrl
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Steve Brown

Did not know the Chairman of the County Commission had the power to appoint his personal committees. Sure hope the rest of the County Commission, duly elected by the voters of Fayette County got a report and were invited to attend this meeting.

Citizen Bob
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Your option...

Why didn't you sit in on any of the open meetings? Have you provided any thoughtful input that county government can use to responsibly address the jail issue?

Husband and Fat...
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Naturegirl

These committees are full of personal appointments. Mr. Paquin though is certainly a good selection based on his education. However if you take a look at other names on the committee, you will see that most are friends of the current commission.

Commission did post the opening on line. I contacted staff about the position, filled out the forms, but never sent it after considering my existing time constraints.

It was explained to me, that once the forms are submitted, commission vets the applicants, and approves those they want to sit. While I commend commission for posting the openings on the county website, it really is not as transparent as they want us to believe. It seems like it could be more of the same "scratch my back, I'll scratch yours process.

Husband and Fat...
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Naturegirl - another one

If you go to the county website, commission has posted a notice that they will be traveling together in August via chartered bus to Alabama in order to attend the introduction of former chairman Harold Bost's induction into the Air Force Hall of Fame.

The notice does not indicate who is paying for this trip, only that the quorum will not result in any official business.

Do you think they would go to the trouble to attend a former chairman's Frady or Smiths honorary induction into some notable cause? Doubtful.

It's politics. You scratch mine, I'll scratch yours. No different than any of our past commissions.

suggarfoot
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Husband and Father

Bost, Brown, and Paquin are honorable men. I am PROUD that they live in this county.

Bost is a self made man. Something most can't say about themselves. He made it the hard way...he earned it.

He has worked to make this county better for many years. Never wanted any credit for it. Just trying to do the right thing.

I will never forget when I met him. He was at the house of a dying man, a wonderful man, trying to get him to run for the BOE. Not for any personal gain...just trying to help the children of this county. He is truly an unsung hero of this county.

I was proud to meet him, just as I'm proud to know Steve Brown.

It is very easy to be an armchair quarterback and belittle those who get out there and try. It seems you and I have had this same conversation about you being an armchair quarterback and those that get out there and try. Again, shame on you.

naturegrl
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Harold Bost/current commission

No I do not think the current commission should go to the former county commissioner Harold Bost anything. Bost had to resign from his commission seat office because he was caught having a Florida residence instead of Georgia residence. It cost the Fayette County tax payers close to $60,000 for a special election.
I am glad you applied for the position and wish you would have made it. I don't have a problem with Mr. Paquin being on the committee, however, as you state, the other appointees are personal friends of Brown and the other bobble heads. Most local tea party persons I have met are nuts. N U T S. No I do not think the current commission would attend any event honoring the prior commission. Sure hope someone other than tea party appointees runs for the upcoming commission seat of Brown. He needs to take a walk back to where ever he came from.
Guess Harold Bost will be funding his campaign just like he did the last three elected to office. ...........
I will be wise and see if my tax dollars paid for that stupid trip.

naturegrl
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Harold Bost/current commission

No I do not think the current commission should go to the former county commissioner Harold Bost anything. Bost had to resign from his commission seat office because he was caught having a Florida residence instead of Georgia residence. It cost the Fayette County tax payers close to $60,000 for a special election.
I am glad you applied for the position and wish you would have made it. I don't have a problem with Mr. Paquin being on the committee, however, as you state, the other appointees are personal friends of Brown and the other bobble heads. Most local tea party persons I have met are nuts. N U T S. No I do not think the current commission would attend any event honoring the prior commission. Sure hope someone other than tea party appointees runs for the upcoming commission seat of Brown. He needs to take a walk back to where ever he came from.
Guess Harold Bost will be funding his campaign just like he did the last three elected to office. ...........
I will be wise and see if my tax dollars paid for that stupid trip.

Citizen Bob
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Naturegrl in the clouds?

You're certainly entitled to opine about activities you think citizens should/not attend on their own time at their own expense, but it's obviously irrelevant.

The U.S. Air Force Enlisted Hall of Fame's selection of a Fayette citizen to its "Wall of Achievers" is a singular and prestigious accomplishment- so of course a number of people have chosen to attend Bost's induction. Learn about the organization here: http://afehri.maxwell.af.mil/pages/tour.htm

P.S. Readers are reminded to check the facts on the repeatedly debunked rumor you're attempting to perpetuate one more time about Bost's being a FL resident while serving as a commissioner- just ain't so.

Husband and Fat...
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Undue speculation Citizen Bob

It's common courtesy to attend the recognition ceremony for a friends induction into this prestigious Hall of Fame. Especially when this friend supported their campaign.

Commission was transparent and posted this on the county website as they should. However, the county post made no reference to who was financing the travel expenses. One had no way to identify who was paying for this. (County, Tea Party, or everyone paying their own fair share) If they are going to pay for this themselves, good for them. This should have been addressed in the post as it caused undue speculation.

MajorMike
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Citizen Bob - just ain't so?

Back in those days I was a wee bit more politically active than I am today. One day I received a phone call from a fellow vice chair within the Fayette GOP informing me that a Fayette County employee had discovered that Harold Bost had listed a Florida address as his primary residence on his tax forms. I was further informed that another individual within the party had given Bost 48 hours to resign or he would go public with the information. Six days later Bost resigned citing his role as caregiver to his wife. Whatever the cause, the taxpayers of Fayette County had to pay for a special election.

There never was any rumor (at least in those days) that Bost had actually moved to Florida. I would agree with you that readers (and bloggers) need to check the facts.

Since I have no horse in that particular race I agree that Fayette County should have some sort of representation at the Air Force ceremony -especially if the attendees are funding the trip out of their own pockets. My personal observation is that this appears to be a Tea Party trip as much as anything.

PTC Observer
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Citizen Bob - You're

correct on the issue of Mr. Bost not being a Florida resident at the time of his election and the time that he served. As I recall, Mr. Bost had a very sick wife at the time and was attempting to balance his public and private life. He did so, and based on the tripe here, he made the right decision.

If the entire county wants to go over and see Mr. Bost be honored, then they can hire a bus, go individually, or just fly over. That includes the Fayette County Commissioners, their family, friends and associates.

As long as it doesn't cost the taxpayers anything, then what difference does it make? Does someone on this board have any facts that this trip will cost us anything. If so, speak up now or forever hold your peace.

suggarfoot
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How is his wife?

I hope well, he is really a nice guy

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