A decade and a half ago, when the Guilford County commissioners set aside more than $100 million – after a bond referendum – to build a giant new jail in downtown Greensboro, there was virtual panic in the county that Guilford County would see a tremendous growth in jail population over the next few years.

Some jail experts predicted that, even if the county built a jail that held 1,000-plus inmates, which it did, the county’s jail system would be full by the time that new jail in downtown Greensboro was finished.

Looking back a decade after the jail panic, it turns out that the county spent much, much, more than it needed to address the problem.

The county’s latest audit shows that, for fiscal year 2022-2023, which ended on June 30, 2023, the average daily jail population was 797 inmates.  That’s much less than it was a decade earlier.

 In fiscal year 2013-2014, the average daily inmate population was 932.

In fact, with the exception of a one-year period at the height of the pandemic –  fiscal year 2020-2021, when the county cleared out the jails as much as possible due to health concerns – the jail population in the most recent fiscal year, 2022-2023, was lower than it has been over the past decade.

During the fiscal year most affected by the pandemic, the average daily inmate population was 696.  Otherwise, the population has remained roughly in the 800 to 900 range for the past ten years.

In the years leading up to the construction of a new jail – almost all county officials believed that the county’s jails would be full or near full at the time the new 1,000-plus bed jail opened in mid-2012.  In those numbers, they included the Guilford County Prison Farm, with 120 beds, and the High Point jail, with several hundred more beds.

However, over the past ten years, the county has shut down the Prison Farm, drastically lowered the number of people held in the Guilford County jail in High Point –  and, still, the county never comes close to using the full capacity of the 1,000-plus new jail in Greensboro, which is really not that new anymore.

Perhaps no other long-term prediction made in this century by county leaders has been so wrong.