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Chattooga County Commissioner Jason Winters

Chattooga County leaders have met with members of the Georgia Department of Corrections about a potential new jail site.

Sheriff Mark Schrader said he and Commissioner Jason Winters talked two weeks ago with some of the prison system's leaders, including Department of Corrections Commissioner Homer Bryson.

Among other topics, Schrader and Winters asked about whether the state could give the county control of an abandoned crime lab.

The building, Schrader said, was once used for Hays State Prison. But with the state no longer operating it, Schrader wondered if the county could turn it into a new sheriff's administrative office. Located in a field, the crime lab would be a good location for the department if the county built a new jail.

"We're just trying to see if that would be available first of all," Schrader said. "We feel like it would be feasible for us if that's available."

The county's current jail can house about 50 inmates, forcing the sheriff's office to ship some criminal defendants to neighboring counties. From Oct. 8 through Wednesday, on average, 23 local inmates stayed in Polk County, and 31 inmates stayed in Bartow County. This cost the county about $2,200 per day during this stretch.

Winters, however, said the conversation with the Department of Corrections does not mean the county is going to build a new jail. He said he simply wanted to know if the county could use the old crime lab, should county leaders decide to build a new jail down the road.

When might that happen?

"We're a long ways from that," Winters said.

"From a financial standpoint for the county, building a jail is not a good idea," he added. "It's something that, when we have to do it, we'll do it. But we want to walk toward this very carefully and make sure it's a right decision."

Winters said he and Schrader have not heard from the Department of Corrections since their meeting, and a DOC spokeswoman did not return multiple calls seeking comment Wednesday.

Winters said the jail population may not always stay as high as it currently stands, that the figures vary from year to year. Asked whether the county's leaders can do anything to alleviate the jail population, the commissioner said that is out of his control.

"I've encourage (Schrader) to use ankle (monitors)," Winters said. "I don't know what he's done on that or not. The sheriff has control of how many folks are in that jail. The commissioner just gets stuck paying the bills."

Contact Staff Writer Tyler Jett at tjett@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6476.

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