The Troup County branch of the NAACP hosted a candidates’ forum Monday at the William Griggs Recreation Center. Attending were local candidates for state house District 128, Couny Commission districts 2 and 3, Board of Education District 1 and sheriff:
Sheriff’s candidates addressed issues with jail overcrowding and handling crime in the community during Monday’s forum.
Democratic candidate Ruben Hairston said that the mental health court will help with overcrowding at the jail and the sheriff’s office could take those who suffer from a mental illness and transport to a mental health facility. He also said the county could use the current state patrol office, once the post moves to its new location, for a female work release program.
Republican candidate James Woodruff said that a new pod built onto the jail currently is not used, but he wants to open it up to reduce overcrowding. He said the drug and mental health courts and work release program are good to help reduce the jail population, but community groups getting involved with programs like drug and alcohol rehabilitation also will go a long way in creating jail alternatives.
Independent candidate Clay Bryant agreed that the mental illness aspect increases jail population and the mental health court will help get those inmates out of the jail while making sure they stay on track. Also, he said the county has a lot of inmates who already have been sentenced, but because of prison overcrowding, are being kept in the jail. He said the sheriff’s association needs to work with the state to try and get state prisoners out of Troup County Jail faster.
Addressing how to handle graffiti in neighborhoods, Bryant said the problem is the possibility that it’s more than just an isolated problem of vandalism, but possible encroachment of gang activity trickling down from Atlanta. He said gang activity is a concern and that anyone who sees what appears to be organized graffiti in a community needs to report it to local law enforcement.
Hairston there is not a big concern of gang activity in Troup County, but rather a lot of “wannabes” trying to be gang members. He also said the best thing to do with graffiti is to report it and then clean it as fast as possible, “because it’s contagious” and will draw more graffiti and crime.
Woodruff said there is not a big problem with gang activity, but those who want to be in gangs can be just as dangerous, because they’re trying to prove themselves. He said reporting graffiti can help start an investigating into possible gangs trying to move into an area.
On how to handle panhandling, Woodruff said it doesn’t seem to be a problem in the unincorporated area. Unlike LaGrange, the county has no ordinance against panhandling, but anyone who may be disturbing people or unwanted on a property may be charged with other offenses.
Bryant said there is an obvious need to differentiate between panhandling and those soliciting funds for a good cause. When dealing with panhandlers, some have mental illnesses and may need to be dealt with differently based on the situation, he said.
Hairston said there are no ordinances in the county for panhandling, and many people just want food. He said when he was a deputy, he and other deputies might help someone who was homeless or transport or direct them to a homeless shelter or church that offers aid.