WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – People end up in jail for any number of reasons, from serious crimes like murder to less serious offenses like petty larceny or even traffic violations. But what about people who are in jail simply because they can’t afford bail and have yet to be convicted of a crime?

That’s something that New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon has been working for years to address, and the program is making serious progress he says.

In 2017, the department hired a jail population manager. That person’s job is to ensure that only people who need to be kept away from the community are in jail.

The program has been in effect for several years now but was started to keep nonviolent offenders out of jail, especially those who simply can’t afford to pay bail.

“I’ve said before that I do not want nonviolent inmates in our facility, those that do not pose a danger to our community — I do not want them in our jail,” McMahon said.

Jail is supposed to be a punishment for crimes committed and when people are given a bond, it’s intended to make sure they show up to court. But when someone can’t afford bail, they often have to sit in jail until their trial — that could be weeks or months.

“Since we started the program we have saved on inmate average days in custody, we’ve reduced that by roughly 50,000 days which is roughly 50 less inmates in the facility per month,” he said.

That’s good news for taxpayers since keeping people in jail costs money.

“If you look at the national average for what it costs for an inmate per day, and look at the medical savings, we know we’ve saved, nearly 5 million dollars saved in the county,” he said.

McMahon was clear that he is not letting people accused of violent crimes or things like DWIs out of jail — but he did say it offers folks another chance at getting the help they need instead of simply locking them up.

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