AUGUSTA, Ga. (WFXG) - For months, Augusta city leaders have been looking for a resolution to the growing jail population.

Key stakeholders met for a work session Wednesday to discuss reforming the criminal justice system to make things run more efficiently.

It’s no secret that the Charles B. Webster Detention Center behind me is overcrowded. Over a thousand inmates housed there currently, many just waiting on trial.

The big question: how can this be addressed.

“We’re having a lot more crime," Center Director Maj. Charles Mitchell says. "Our jail is built basically for 900 and we’re steady at this point and it all happened after covid. So, if you ask how we got here it was covid and the courts processing and trying cases. I’m not blaming the courts, it’s just crime is happening and we’re stuck with it, until we move the inmates on.”

Court administration, judges, district attorney, solicitor’s office, probation services, social services and pre-trial services all in attendance, looking for a path forward to streamline the criminal justice system in Augusta.

Short staffing and backlogged courts are the key issues.

“Now, you have attorneys who are being paid the same salary, they are required to stay after hours, they’re coming in early, they’re trying to get cases out, they have to review those cases in order to get offers," President of the Augusta Bar Association, Tianna Bias says. "So, then on the felony level, even though they don’t have as significant of a backlog, if you have a backlog, then you don’t have someone reviewing a case to make an offer, you don’t have a defense attorney able to relay that offer to their clients, and then you don’t have a client who’s able to accept an offer so that they can possibly be released.”

City leaders looking to make changes to how they incarcerate: pre-arrests and pre-trial programs to keep people out of jail. And when they find their way to the system, keeping the cases moving to prevent overcrowding.

Lastly, giving staff the resources needed to succeed.

“We absolutely need to be listening to that and then make those critical allocations," District 1 Commissioner Jordan Johnson says. "I know it’s going to be expensive, but I would rather spend the money to hire the staff to help us get the work done, than to spend $75 a day to house an inmate at Webster. I think it’s going to cost us more money to incarcerate people than it would to hire staff to help us divert people from the criminal justice system in the first place.”

There’s a city budget meeting Thursday morning. Allocating more funds to these critical departments to ensure they can hire quality workers and fill vacancies is a priority.

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