SPECIAL REPORT: The high cost of slow justice

SPECIAL REPORT: The high cost of slow justice

MUSCOGEE COUNTY, GA (WTVM) - Nearly 1,000 inmates are sitting behind bars at the Muscogee County Jail, and 90 percent are waiting for their day in court, according to the sheriff.

The process is costing taxpayers millions.

In this special report, we take an-in-depth look at the process and the price tab.

DeWayne Boulware has been a free man for only two months now.

His taste of freedom from the Muscogee County Jail came in September after being tucked away for two years. 

"It's like when you get in that county jail you're stuck," Boulware said.

Boulware was arrested in 2014 on a burglary charge that he says he didn't do.

But he does admit to getting his hands dirty when he purchased and pawned an XBOX game stolen from the house,

That wrong move cost Boulware two years in jail.

He spent the first 12 months waiting for his day in court at taxpayers' expense: The tab: $50 a day for a total of $1,800.

"I was going to court but I wasn't getting in court…that's a hurting feeling," Boulware said. "You're frustrated because you feel like 'I'm finna go to court today and get this out of the way' and they tell you, 'we're going to set you up another court date.'"

The burglary charge against Boulware was dropped for lack of evidence, but he still had to do one more year for probation violation.

The wait-and-see game wasn't just agonizing for him, but for his cellmates as well.

"They lose it because they sit in there so long just waiting to go to court," Boulware said.

Boulware's case is mild compared to more serious crimes like murder or aggravated assault. Typically, violent cases take much longer for the wheels of justice to turn than minor crimes, making the tab for taxpayers even higher.

In Antonio Tucker's case, he was arrested four years ago for aggravated assault and child cruelty charges.

Just like Boulware, Tucker's jailhouse tab is costing taxpayers $50 a day, $1,500 a month and a whopping $18,000 a year. To top it off, that's $72,000 of taxpayer's money for the four years he's been behind bars.

The yearly costs for inmates far exceeds those numbers.

"This cost last year we're going to be billed about a million dollars for pharmaceutical costs, medical service for inmates that going to about $240,000 the food that's going to be served to the inmates is more like a million dollars," said Muscogee County Sheriff John Darr.

We hit the streets in Uptown Columbus to find out what taxpayers think about footing such hefty bills for inmates caught in trial delays.

"I assuming everybody would think that's crazy," said one person.

"You're kidding me, that's ridiculous," said another person.

A third person said it was "surprising."

We also asked people how it made them feel as taxpayers.

"That's what a lot of our taxpayer dollars go to anyways, what else are we going to do keep them on the street?" asked one person.

"I think $50 is probably on the lower end for what people pay on average," said another person.

We did an inmate cost comparison between the Muscogee County Jail and neighboring facilities.

In Alabama, we learned it costs $44 a day to house an inmate at the Lee County Detention Center in Opelika.

"That's my taxpayer's money, what are we doing about it?"

Something is being done to move cases faster in Columbus' Judicial System through the Rapid Resolution Program.

Since its inception in 2015, it's moved inmates either out of the jail, to prison, rehab facility or to another jail.   

Chief Assistant District Attorney Alonza Whitaker, a 30-year veteran in the legal field says he's ecstatic the program is working so well.

But other factors in society are contributing to the wheels of justice grinding slowly nowadays.

"You have multiple cases, multiple offenses and multiple defendants, three or four different charges and different events, you have a whole lot of dynamics that I didn't see when I started earlier," Whitaker said.  

Columbus is a part of the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit, consisting of seven judges who oversee five other counties. That workload in and of itself presents its challenges with the demand to move cases off the court docket like Dewayne Boulware and Antonio Tucker's jailhouse experiences.

That dynamic, coupled with the process of creating a file for each case which often starts in recorder's court and ends in Superior Court, makes some feel justice delayed is justice denied.

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