The Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement hosted a roundtable discussion on the sheriff’s audit, jail reform, criminal justice and racism at the Athens-Clarke County Library on June 10
Commissioners, former state representative Deborah Gonzalez, local attorneys, Athens Clarke-County Solicitor General C.R. Chisholm and 2020 Sheriff candidate John Williams were a few of the approximately 25 people in attendance.
The meeting featured special guest Stephanie Maddox. Maddox, the internal auditor for Athens-Clarke County, spoke about her department’s most recent audit of the Sheriff’s office.
In that audit, auditors documented critical issues with the Clarke County Jail, such as low recruitment and retention, poor morale and safety concerns voiced by jail guards. The auditors recommended a number of solutions to the sheriff’s office such as better training. While some recommendations were heeded, others were not. However, Maddox attested the Sheriff’s Office was very forthcoming in providing all documentation for the audit.
The other special guest was Avery Murdie, one of the founders of the Georgia Institute for Transitional Justice. Over the course of a few weeks on behalf of the institute, Murdie had compiled data from jailed inmates in ACC. Murdie handled data from over 82,000 charges and over 25,000 unique individuals and presented his findings to the assembled crowd.
Among other things, the statistics showed black males are significantly overrepresented in ACC’s jail system and have the highest average bond per booking when outliers are excluded. Additionally, black males are charged more than white males.
After the speakers’ presentations, the audience divided into breakout groups to discuss potential solutions and react to the problems illuminated in both presentations. Zach Kaiser, a UGA law student, participated in one such group with former state representative Deborah Gonzalez.
“These all seem to be familiar themes you hear about on all levels of prison reform,” Kaiser said.
As the meeting ended, organizers collected the answers and responses of every breakout group to help inform their local activism.
“In order to help direct policy, we have to understand the picture first,” Murdie said. “This is just one attempt of many to try and get a better understanding of what our current community looks like.”