JEFFERSON-Ashe County Sheriff James Williams is shopping for new customers.
He is seeking long-term lodgers for extended stays in county accommodations to help offset department expenses. But Williams isn’t looking for motel patrons or at least not in the traditional sense.
The sheriff is looking for new inmates to fill vacant cells at the Ashe County Law Enforcement and Detention Center.
It’s not just local offenders that he is seeking out either. As of late, Williams has spent significant time on the road lobbying for the overflow population of inmates from other regional jails.
When jails reach capacity they often seek detention centers in neighboring counties or municipalities to take on some of their inmates while they await their respective court dates. Some detention centers seek inmate housing due to infrastructural problems or while awaiting the construction of a new jail.
This is where the Ashe County Sheriff’s office steps in as a stopgap for those overwhelmed jailhouses.
Since the jail’s opening in 2010, the sheriff’s office and county budget have benefited from housing inmates from outside the county. By offsetting departmental expenses, Williams said this allows the sheriff’s office and jail move closer to being self sustainable.
“It all goes in the same spot,” Williams said county commissioners on Monday about the costs the jail helps to offset.
Of the 93 inmates currently being held at the Ashe County Jail, only 27 of them are local prisoners, said Williams.
Excluding Ashe County offenders, 22 of the jail’s inmate population are from Surry County and six inmates originated in Alleghany County. Additionally, the state’s misdemeanor confinement programs accounts for 38 of the jail’s total population.
The county currently charges other municipalities around $40 per day per inmate. The jail and law enforcement center itself cost around $12 million. When the jail initially opened, officials expected the facility to pay for itself over time. It costs anywhere from $18 to $20 a day for the county to feed and house each inmate.
Previously, Ashe County’s jail cells swelled to near capacity as neighboring counties awaited completion of their facilities.
When Wilkes County finally opened up its new jail two years ago, the county lost around 40 inmates.
But Williams said he has found other jails further down the road in need of overflow relief.
After careful negotiations, Williams said the excess inmates in Caldwell County will now come to Ashe County. Those inmates were previously being housed in the newly built jail in Alexander County. Williams expects that new contract to add approximately 30 to 35 inmates to the jail’s ranks.
“That will be a good boost to the general fund,” said Williams. “We are starting to get up where we where before.”
At capacity, the jail can house 165 inmates.
The jail is suitable to hold federal inmates for court dates that typically take place in Charlotte, but officials typically choose closer facilities. Caldwell County currently farms out local inmates to other facilities and replaces them with federal inmates, which pays more.
“That’s the same thing that I would do in their shoes,” said Williams.
Reach Jesse Campbell at 336-489-3058