November 10, 2022

jail shadow
Credit: Ye Jinghan/Unsplash

Report examines rural Georgia jails

Jails in rural Georgia are increasingly filled not by violent offenders or dangerous drivers but instead by those charged with low-level crimes like probation violations or driving on a suspended license, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Georgia analyzed jail rosters between 2019 and 2020 in seven rural Georgia counties and released their findings in conjunction with the Vera Institute of Justice.

Drug possession, probation violations, and driving on a suspended license (often due to unpaid fees) are the majority of charges for the jails in those counties, according to the study.

The takeaway, according to the Vera Institute, is for rural governments to put their limited funds to community interventions that stop crime rather than worsen poverty in jail. It comes amid a statewide conversation over cash bail in the recently decided governor’s race, where incumbent Gov. Brian Kemp said he wanted to “stop the revolving door of criminals getting back out onto our streets.”

The Current looked into the report, its findings, and how it may translate to jails in Coastal Georgia’s less populated counties.

Glynn County
Glynn County Police Vehicle. Credit: Jeffery M. Glover/ The Current

DUI enforcement in Glynn County

The governor’s office awarded the Glynn County Police Department around $100,000 for DUI enforcement, according to a Facebook post.

Although it was presented on social media as a new grant, a spokesperson for the department confirmed the grant is a continuation for its third year in a program that funds vehicles, equipment, supplies, and 2 officers’ salaries. The grant is referred to as H.E.A.T., and its stated goal is to cut down on impaired driving, fatalities, wrecks and speeding.

Between 2013 and 2018 (the most recent data available), crashes in Glynn County of all types increased by around 98%, from 1,027 to 2,032, according to the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety (the agency that awarded the grant).

Fatal crashes due to alcohol also rose in the county between 2015 and 2019, the data showed.

Camden County deputy under investigation after January traffic stop turned violent.

An update from Camden County

Since The Current first reported on a state investigation into a Camden County Sheriff’s deputy for excessive force last month, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation provided an update on the case.

On Nov. 8 (Election Day), the GBI completed its investigation and turned it over to the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney, according to a spokesperson. DA Keith Higgins originally requested the investigation into the incident where dashcam footage showed the deputy rammed a woman’s head into a police cruiser during a traffic stop.

The decision came after weeks of pressure from the local NAACP branch in Camden County about what they saw as the deputy’s repeated pattern of aggression.

A representative for DA Higgins said “the case is under review,” in an email. The DA’s office can either dismiss the case or bring the facts to a grand jury for potential indictment.

Mellow Mushroom in Savannah
Screenshot of Google Street View look at Mellow Mushroom in Savannah

Pepperoni, cheese, tax avoidance

Federal prosecutors charged the former owner of the Mellow Mushroom pizza franchise in Savannah with failing to pay over $400,000 in payroll taxes.

Melissa Metts Johnson, 48, of Statesboro owned the company that operated the popular restaurant on Liberty Street between 2015 and 2019.

In a court filing last month, authorities accused Johnson of continuing to withhold taxes from employee’s paychecks while not turning the funds over to the Internal Revenue Service and spending thousands for her own benefit in the meantime. The amount of unpaid dues totaled up to $428,203.48, they said.

The restaurant closed in 2020 and then announced on Facebook it was reopening “under new management” in fall 2021.

The Current called Johnson’s attorney, Savannah-based Bobby Phillips, who said she appeared in federal court Wednesday and pleaded not guilty.

Johnson did hint in court she’ll be seeking a negotiated plea agreement, Phillips said.

“She’s looking for a reasonable resolution, and I think we’re going to get that,” he said.

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Report: Most people in rural Georgia jails there for low-level crimes

Research from UGA and the Vera Institute of Justice found that low level offenses like driving on a suspended license and probation violations made up much of the admissions into county jails in seven Georgia counties.

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Camden deputy under GBI investigation for violent traffic stop

Camden County Sheriff Deputy Christi Newman under GBI investigation after January traffic stop in Kingsland GA, where dashcam video showed Newman ramming woman’s head into a police cruiser.

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Coastal Georgia counties OK alcohol sales, some taxes

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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...