ACC Sheriff John Q Williams launched his re-election campaign on Saturday at the Winterville Cultural Center calling himself a “sheriff for the people.”
Williams spoke to attendees about his accomplishments since taking office in 2021 and his plans for the future, including a collaboration with Habitat for Humanity to train inmates at the Clarke County Jail to build modules for tiny homes. After being incarcerated for even a short period, people often lose their jobs and their place to live. Williams, who emphasized rehabilitation of offenders throughout his 30-minute speech, seems hopeful that this nascent collaboration could benefit inmates as they transition back into society.
“Where do you go when you get out? That’s why we’re doing this, job training, but we also hope that…if you don’t have a place to go when you get out of jail, you can stay in one of these tiny houses,” Williams said.
The ACC Sheriff’s Office runs the Clarke County Jail, provides security at the courthouse, handles evictions and serves warrants in the community.
While the tiny house program would need changes to the ACC code and support from the community before being fully implemented, many of the initiatives Williams started since taking office have already borne fruit. For example, Williams’ boasted of tripling the mental healthcare resources available to inmates and greatly expanding outreach to the community with a yearly fall festival at the jail, back-to-school haircut and braiding events and also mobile food pantries to help Athenians in need through a collaboration with the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia.
To fund some of these events and other initiatives, Williams created a new position in his office to apply for grants and seek out donations and other alternative funding sources.
Williams’ primary effort to help inmates transition back into society is called REQS, for Re-Entry Quality Services. REQS the first re-entry focused program ever at the Clarke County Jail, according to Williams. Launched in 2022, the program identifies a wide range of needs that returning inmates might have, including drug and alcohol treatment, mental health resources, employment opportunities and living space. Then, it connects inmates to available resources in the community and follows-up after release to help them re-integrate.
That’s not the only program Williams has started to help offenders reform their lives. Last year, Williams invited Shane Sims, executive director of People in Recovery, to start his program ‘Principles Over Passions’ with a group of inmates in solitary confinement at the jail. Principles Over Passions is a peer recovery mentoring group that helps inmates deal with past trauma in their lives, which Sims believes is a primary cause of criminal behavior.
“Often society gets it wrong in addressing delinquency because it looks at the behavior as being the disease [instead of] a symptom of something much deeper,” Sims said at Williams’ campaign kickoff. “Many parts of our society don’t want to look deeper because then it may place the blame squarely at our feet and we didn’t want that.”
When inmates complete the program, they hold a “graduation” ceremony for which they wear suits and ties that have been donated by local groups such as Ebenezer West Baptist Church.
“If you’ve seen those pictures of those gentlemen, the first time some of them have ever had a suit and or tie. If you can see that, if you can hear them talk,” said Williams, voice full of emotion.
Upon serving their sentence and leaving the jail, graduates of Principles Over Passion keep the suit they wore during their ceremony, free of charge.
Williams also wants to improve security at the jail by installing a new and improved body scanner to reduce the amount of drugs and other contraband entering the facility. Williams says the amount of contraband making it past security now is very low, but still remains a worry. “The smallest amount of fentanyl that gets through can have life changing effects,” Williams said.
Williams’ sister, Dr. Seretha Williams, and wife, Meshondra Williams, also spoke at the campaign kickoff. A few dozen supporters were in attendance.
So far, Williams has one declared opponent – Tommy Dorsey, a former employee of the Sheriff’s Office who currently works as a police officer providing security for the Clarke County School District. It’s currently unclear if Dorsey intends to run in Democratic primary on May 21 or as an independent in the general election in November.