Guilford County’s jail population numbers for 2016 have just been compiled and last year the number of people in the county’s jails fell in a big way. The average daily population for the county’s two jails in 2016 was 820 – a drop of 23 from the 2015 number of 843.

The Greensboro jail has a capacity of 1,032, while the High Point jail has a capacity of 274. That puts the county’s total available number of jail beds at 1,306 and the county’s current percentage of used beds at 63 percent of capacity.

Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes said his department has been doing what it can to reduce crime in the county and he said that’s no doubt one factor in the lower jail numbers. Barnes said crime in his jurisdiction has gone down systematically since the mid-’90s, and 2016 was no exception.

“Since becoming sheriff at the end of 1994 we have a realized a 60 percent decrease in crime,” Barnes wrote in an email.

He added of his staff, “These guys (both men and women) are doing a great job. Response times are at an all time low. On the whole Guilford County is a great and safe place to be.”

According to the sheriff, there was a 7 percent drop in crime last year. He said the numbers are still under review but the initial statstics indicate there were 109 fewer “Part 1” crimes – homicides, rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, larcenies and motor vehicle thefts – in the department’s jurisdiction in 2016 than in 2015.

The Greensboro Police Department also saw less crime and therefore fewer arrests and a lower number of people being taken to the jails. According to the department’s statistics, in 2015 there were 15,742 total arrests with 23,811 charges, while in 2016 there were 13,622 arrests with 20,893 charges.

While the crime rate was down overall, there was an increase in murders and violent crime in Greensboro last year. In 2015, there were 27 murders in Greensboro compared to 36 in 2016. For violent crimes overall, there were 1,707 in 2015 and 1,886 in 2016.

Greensboro Police Department Public Information Officer Susan Danielson said multiple factors affect criminal activity and the police’s arrest rate. She wrote in an email that the Police Department is taking proactive steps to bring down the city’s crime rate.

“We are always looking for ways to prevent and reduce crime,” Danielson wrote. “Much of our efforts include involvement and cooperation with the public. “The types and amount of crime are influenced by many factors. In most instances, no single factor can be attributed to an increase or decrease in crime. However, we do know that creating a safer city requires effort from everyone. Police cannot do this on our own.”

The current drop in the inmate population follows an even bigger drop from 2014 to 2015. The jail population numbers also remain well below where they were over a decade ago. In 2005, for instance, the average daily population in Guilford County’s jails was 862, which is 42 inmates more than it was in 2016.

Guilford County Sheriff’s Department Major Chuck Williamson, who helps track the daily population numbers in the county’s jails, said that while the jail population as a whole saw a drop, one upward trend is the percentage of women being held in jail in recent years.

“We have experienced a small but steady increase of female intakes for the period of 2013 through 2016,” Williamson said, adding that that number went from 4,121 females booked into the jail in 2013 to 4,638 in 2016.

In 2015, 4,350 females were taken into the jail – while 288 more were taken into the jail last year.

Barnes has said in the past that a number of factors have kept the demand for jail space lower than expected, including economic factors, changes in laws and in state regulations as to which convicted inmates must serve sentences in county jail. Last year, the sheriff said that he tells his officers, “You don’t get points for arresting people – you get points for stopping crime.”

The fact that the county’s jail population has fallen in recent years is particularly notable given that, until a few years ago, Guilford County held many convicted inmates at the Guilford County Prison Farm near Gibsonville – where they weren’t included in the jail population numbers. That facility is now closed and all of the inmates who in the past would have been held at the Prison Farm are being held in the new Greensboro jail, where they are counted as part of the county’s jail population.

Before the Prison Farm closed about two years ago, Guilford County kept roughly 35 to 40 inmates there on weekdays, and often over 100 inmates when the “weekenders” came in. Those were people convicted of crimes such as DUI’s, who were allowed to serve their sentences on weekends in order to maintain their jobs. Those convicted prisoners weren’t counted as part of the jail population when they were at the farm but are now being counted since that they are being held in the Greensboro jail.