– Thursday, August 23, 2023 –

Good morning. In this week’s public safety newsletter, we’re covering an update to the Glynn sheriff’s controversial “donation”, so-called crime guns from sellers of firearms in the Savannah-area and what a whopping amount of money spent in Camden County means for criminal justice stakeholders.

As always, you can reach me for questions, comments or story ideas at jakeshore.thecurrent@gmail.com.

Money and justice

S’hantel Butler, an Army veteran living in Hinesville and mental health counselor, said she has spent thousands of dollars talking with a loved one in a Georgia state prison where communications provider Securus charges $3 per deposit and 14 cents per minute to talk by phone. “They want to drain money from us, too.” Credit: Justin Taylor/The Current

Criminal justice officials have been known to award contracts to companies that impose fees on detainees going through the system and earn agencies revenue from them, too. The Current reported on this practice last week, in an updated story on Glynn County Sheriff Neal Jump.

In an updated contract, Jump’s office received a $160,000 “donation slash grant” from a provider who charges telecommunications fees to detainees in his jail. The company, Pay Tel Communications, and the sheriff’s office split the proceeds of telephone calls, text messages and tablets. In exchange for accepting the $160,000 payment to buy new police pursuit vehicles, Jump selected Pay Tel the exclusive provider of video visitation at the jail — which will cost detainees $0.30 a minute, or $6 per 20 minute video call with a loved one.

This happens across the coast in different forms. Starting on Aug. 1, Effingham County began its new contract to completely privatize probation services. The contract was pitched as cost-saving measure while also increasing probation officer attention to more cases. However, the contract with Judicial Alternatives of Georgia (JAG) also means less direct oversight by the county and increased costs for some. All probationers were charged $50 per month under the old county system. JAG charges $48 per person with “regular” supervision, or at least one office meeting per month, and $55 to those with “intensive” supervision, or at least one probation meeting per week. Indigent offenders are supposed to be exempt under this contract, according to the contract.

The call is coming from inside the house

Gun shop Credit: Wikimedia Commons

A woman and her boyfriend, one day after his release from prison, strolled into a Savannah gun shop. Despite the boyfriend, Javonte Washington, trying out several firearms and paying for the semi-automatic pistol he chose, the woman, Nygeria Brown, indicated to the seller she was buying the firearm for herself. 

That was good enough for the salesperson at Z and Son Fine Guns in Savannah on Nov. 16, 2022, and the purchase went through, according to court documents. But the gun was actually for Washington, who was barred as a convicted felon from having one.

Washington, later arrested and federally indicted, was sentenced last week in federal court to over three years in prison for participating in a straw purchase of a firearm. Brown pleaded guilty in June. 

As officials look for answers to our nation’s gun violence epidemic, solutions require a look in our own backyards. A blockbuster report by the Savannah Morning News last week identified 14 legal gun sellers — including Z and Son Fine Guns — whose sales accounted for nearly half of all guns later retrieved by police from crime scenes in Savannah last year.

The Savannah company also employs Pedro Ortiz as master gunsmith, who had one gun shop shut down by federal regulators and was co-owner of another that received numerous violations, the report found. While the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is empowered to regulate dealers and punish those who don’t follow the rules, the agency is often hampered by current law, underfunding and fear of blowback from the gun industry. Read here from that newspaper report (subscriber only).

Out of this world priorities

Camden defunct spaceport project logo Credit: Camden County

Documents continue to trickle out from Camden County, where its Spaceport project, defeated by residents, cost taxpayers around $12 million. Invoices show that money went to lawyers, PR firms, consultants, more consultants and of course, lobbyists, according to a new story by our data reporter Maggie Lee.

What does this have to do with public safety? I mention it because it’s important to know what your elected officials are spending money on and contrast it with where it is not being spent.

While commissioners paid eye-popping sums trying to defeat residents opposed to the spaceport, Camden County Sheriff Jim Proctor told me he struggled to get funding to replace broken doors at the jail.

In the latest budget, he also failed to secure meaningful raises for his jailers from commissioners, he said, as the agency deals with 54 vacancies in his 150 deputy department. Five deputies face charges from violent jail beatings in the last eight months, while costs increase from more insurance claims against the agency.

Follow the taxpayer dollars. You can read Lee’s reporting here.

‘Donation’? More questions after jail vendor’s $160K payment to Glynn sheriff

Glynn County officials believed a $160,000 infusion from the jail’s telecom provider was a “donation” to the sheriff’s office. Documents show it was a bonus in exchange for new costly video visitation.

Continue reading…

Glynn jail phone provider gives sheriff $160K to replace wrecked cruisers

Glynn County Sheriff Neal Jump accepts a $160K payment by Pay Tel Communications, the company which charges telephone fees to people in his jail. The payment raises questions after disappearing from a county agenda and appearing in another without mentioning Pay Tel.

Continue reading…

Covid’s over but county jails still profit from virtual communication

Jails run by Coastal Georgia sheriffs collect more revenue from detainees trying to stay in touch with loved ones over phone, video or text messaging, while they still ban in-person visitation after Covid. Jails in Chatham and Glynn counties were the biggest earners on the coast.

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Q&A: Former firearms company exec explains roots of America’s gun violence epidemic

Former gun industry executive says the epidemic of mass shootings results from the breakdown of unspoken social contract the firearms industry once recognized as important to maintaining the freedom to own weapons.

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Gun deaths dropped slightly in 2022 — but were still high

A drop in homicides led slight fall in gun deaths in the U.S. in 2022, though they still remain higher than pre-pandemic levels, according to CDC data.

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Who benefitted from doomed Spaceport Camden?

At least 30 lawyers and a million dollars on wooing the public and governments.

Continue reading…

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Jake Shore covers public safety and the courts system in Savannah and Coastal Georgia. He is also a Report for America corps member. Prior to joining The Current, Jake worked for the Island Packet and...