Jail population numbers included in the latest Guilford County audit show that, for the most recent complete fiscal year, 2017-2018, the number of inmates held in the county’s two jails is almost exactly the same as it was 10 years ago when the county decided to build a giant 1,032-bed $100-million jail because the jail population was expected to “skyrocket” over the next decade.
They say hindsight is 20-20, and, while that’s probably an overstatement, hindsight does realistically come in in the 20-30 to 20-40 range, and it’s now crystal clear that the county’s wildly panicked discussions 10 years ago about a critical need for new jail space were unfounded.
According to audited stats for fiscal 2017-2018, the average daily inmate population in the county’s two jails was 906, exactly one inmate higher than it was in fiscal 2008-2009. At that time, pro new jail forces led by former Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes pushed for a giant new jail, while others – in a very heated debate at the time – argued that the county didn’t need a new jail at all or could suffice with a much smaller jail than the proposed 1,000-plus jail. Guilford County Commissioners Skip Alston and Carolyn Coleman both argued that a jail of that magnitude was not needed and it turns out they were exactly right.
A decade ago, those favoring a new jail argued that the old jail in downtown Greensboro, the jail in High Point, the county’s Prison Farm and the new jail would all be full or near capacity in ten years. What has happened, instead, is the exact opposite: The county closed the old jail, closed the Prison Farm, significantly reduced the number of inmates in the High Point jail and the new jail in Greensboro now sits about half empty with entire floors vacant. The 906 inmates for the most recent fiscal year even includes federal inmates the county doesn’t have to hold but does for a profit.
In recent years that’s brought in about $1 million a year but of course there are costs for meals and medical care, which means all of that revenue cannot be counted as profit.
Two years ago, the county commissioners even considered shutting down the county’s jail in High Point. That facility isn’t left open because the county needs the space but instead because of the logistics of getting inmates from Greensboro to the courthouse in High Point. There are also political considerations since High Pointers constantly argue that their city is treated as “a red-headed step-child” by the county.
According to the numbers in the audit, the highest point the average daily population reached was 955 in fiscal 2009-2010, and the fiscal year with the lowest average daily population was 2015-2016, when it fell to 811.
The population has been on an uptick since then: It hit 881 in fiscal 2016-2017 before reaching 906 in the fiscal year 2017-2018 which ended on June 30.