Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Judge: Crowded Jail Is State's Fault; Camden County Audit Shows That 78 Inmates Are Awaiting Transfers to State Prison

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Judge: Crowded Jail Is State's Fault; Camden County Audit Shows That 78 Inmates Are Awaiting Transfers to State Prison

Article excerpt

Byline: GORDON JACKSON

WOODBINE - A Superior Court judge said Camden County's jail is overcrowded because of state prison officials, not because judges aren't working.

An audit conducted last week to determine why the 120-bed jail is overcrowded shows the state is not taking custody of inmates sentenced to prison, Chief Superior Court Judge Amanda Williams said.

"I want the public to know what's happening in the jail," she said. "There are some things the judges can't do anything about."

County Commissioner Steve Berry blames "the people in the black robes" for not working hard enough to resolve the backlog of cases that he said created the problem.

Of the 197 inmates held in the jail late last week, Williams said 78 are awaiting transfer to a state prison. One inmate sentenced to prison in August 2008 is still in the county jail.

"I have a black robe on and I can't get the state to pick them up," Williams said.

Williams asked court officials to contact the state Department of Corrections last week to resolve the problem. The state responded it has a backlog of 3,000 bed spaces in the prison system, she said.

Another 59 people are waiting for jury trials, most of which are scheduled in March, she said.

"There are very few cases that have been there a long time," she said. "Most of these are new cases."

But some cases such as armed robbery, aggravated assault, rape and murder take much longer to get to trial. It takes months for the state to conduct psychiatric evaluations, and DNA tests take even longer because the state closure of some crime labs created more delays. Court officials recently sent DNA evidence to a crime lab in Utah because of the problem, Williams said.

"If you can't get your DNA back, you can't move [a case]," she said. "Major cases take major time."

Another 27 inmates are held on probation violation charges, the majority of whom face new criminal charges.

"We don't lock them up for not paying fines," she said. "People aren't sitting over there a long time unless they have new charges pending."

Seven inmates were held on drug court violations and the remaining inmates are held for other local, state and federal violations, she said. …

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