Gwinnett Sheriff Says Jail Population Down; Credits Sec. 287(g)

JANUARY 13, 2014 11:30 AM


A federal law allowing law enforcement personnel to check the immigration status of criminal suspects has been credited for reducing the inmate population at the Gwinnett County Jail. From the Gwinnett Daily Post:

The Gwinnett County jail saw 34,341 inmate admissions in 2013, a drop of more than 5,500 inmates and about 14 percent when compared with 2008. Over the same time period, the jail’s average inmate population dropped roughly 19 percent, hitting just 2,180 last year. A facility that was once “severely overcrowded” now has “a lot of empty housing units.”

[Butch] Conway, Gwinnett’s sheriff since 1997, pointed to one primary factor: a controversial federal program called 287(g).

Under Section 297(g), once trained sheriff’s deputies at the jail identify an incoming inmate as an illegal immigrant, that person is given a detainer that provides for eventual deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The program is also used in Cobb, Hall and Whitfield counties.

While Sheriff Conway credits 287(g) for reducing crime in Georgia’s second most populous county, organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union see the program as a case of racial discrimination.

The program has led to deportation of thousands of people and separation of countless families. Between 2006 and April 2012, 14,831 people were deported through 287(g), making Georgia rank fifth among all states based on numbers of deportations.

287(g) has also encouraged racial profiling and targeting of communities of color in the four 287(g) counties. This was recently experienced by Jon-Christopher Sowells who was stopped and subsequently arrested by Snellville police in Gwinnett during a test drive of a BMW for no apparent reason.

“They’re treating me like I’m a criminal and I hadn’t done anything,” he told the news media.

Gwinnett began using the 287(g) program in November, 2009. The 2008 recession and subsequent collapse of Gwinnett’s construction industry undoubtedly convinced many immigrants to depart the county and seek their fortunes elsewhere, which could be another factor in the reduced jail population.

Whatever the cause, the reduced number of inmates hasn’t lowered the costs of operating the detention center. Operating expenses, especially labor costs, have caused the sheriff’s budget to increase slightly over the past few years.