Paying the cost of housing county inmates

During Monday’s meeting of the St. Johns County Civic Association Roundtable, Historic City News reporters were on hand when the Sheriff’s budget drew fire; citing that it is heavy with jail expenses.

“The county is responsible to provide the detention facility,” Sheriff’s Lieutenant Daniel E. Chitwood, Jr., told Historic City News. “Some counties have turned their jails over to private companies.”

Chitwood says that so long as the Sheriff is assuming responsibility for the detention facility, he has an obligation to maintain it in accordance with standards and practices that comply with state and federal laws.

There are two identifiable categories of inmates. “On any day there may be 500 inmates in custody in our jail,” Chitwood said. Today there are 522. Some of those have been convicted and sentenced to serve up to one year in jail. Others are still awaiting trial or to post bail, if that option is available in their case.”

There is also a small percentage of the inmate population being held for other agencies or who have been sentenced to greater than one year and are awaiting transfer to the Florida Department of Corrections to serve their time.

The majority of St. Johns County inmates are serving “jail time”, that is to say a one-year sentence or less. Chitwood says that many of those inmates are “low risk”. “These would be the inmates who would have been candidates for assignment to the Sheriff’s Agricultural Work Farm in Hastings.”

In order to satisfy capacity requirements established for county jails, Chitwood says more beds are required, and, as the population of the county grows, it is reasonable to assume the need for more jail beds will grow. “Unfortunately,” Chitwood explained, “you can’t build a suitable detention facility in a couple of months.”

Currently, the Sheriff is looking at 2 acres of land returned to the county that were previously leased to the Department of Juvenile Justice; adjacent to the existing county jail. “The DJJ operates a Level 8, high risk juvenile detention facility in a building right next door,” Chitwood said. “If that building becomes available to us, we could easily add 100 beds to our capacity for low-risk inmates.”

That scenario is not a certainty; however, it is one that would satisfy the county’s inmate housing needs for as much as ten years, according to Chitwood who coordinated efforts to establish the Work Farm.

“We will continue to look for housing solutions that can be acquired and operated at the lowest possible cost to the county,” Chitwood said. “… so long as they meet or exceed minimum standards and the Sheriff’s Office continues to be charged with the operation of the jail.”

Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer

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