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Now browsing: Hometown News > Opinion > Brevard County

Today's jail: as different as night and day
Rating: 2.29 / 5 (38 votes)  
Posted: 2012 Aug 03 - 00:49

In 2004, the Brevard County Jail was constantly in the news for being overcrowded and having an alarming number of jail suicides.

The jail exceeded its maximum capacity of 1,041 by hundreds of inmates. Making matters worse, jail infrastructure such as the kitchen, laundry and booking areas were originally designed to handle the facilities original capacity of 384 inmates and were struggling to keep up.

Concern for jail overcrowding by Brevard County Commissioners grew in proportion to the inmate population, and they attempted four jail expansion voting referendums to build the needed jail space, all of which failed.

The County Commission was once again preparing to make its case to the residents for a referendum. They commissioned a highly respected consulting firm to evaluate the jail situation and make suggestions. The consultant's report yielded a major two-phase expansion plan expecting to cost an estimated $143 million.

While the expansion recommendations were comprehensive and well thought out, they were also very costly. Even the first phase of the plan, at an estimated $43 million, far-exceeded the county's available funds and would have required a voter's referendum. With four failed jail referendums in Brevard's recent history, it was not a stretch to believe a fifth referendum would meet the same fate. A fifth failure would have resulted in additional delays that would have further pushed any real corrective actions another two-to-three years down the road. The time for talking was over. We needed real improvements, and we needed them fast.

So after being sworn in as Sheriff in January 2005, our team made a recommendation to the Board to consider an alternative plan including the use of tents and inmate labor to reduce jail expansion costs to a fraction of the price. It worked. The Board approved our plan, directed work begin immediately and avoided the need for a fifth referendum.

Looking back on the past eight years, there have been outstanding improvements to all aspects of the county jail operation, including:

. New hurricane-resistant tent facilities for 400 inmates

. A new 346-bed facility for inmates with special mental health and medical need

. A new infirmary

. A new 297-bed female jail - created by using inmates to renovate an old building

. A new kitchen

. Expanded booking, inmate receiving and releasing areas

. A new laundry facility

. New innovative inmate work programs

The completion of the recent booking room expansion marked the final phase of the jail expansion recommendations. As a result, today's jail, as compared to what the jail looked like in 2004, is as different as night and day.

I am personally very thankful to the County Commissioners and county staff who made the jail improvements a priority and continuously supported our requests. I could not be more proud of the corrections deputies and employees who, under the outstanding leadership of Jail Commander Susan Jeter, worked so hard to maintain the safety and security of the jail during years of construction and operational challenges. I would also like to recognize the corrections staff, who was here in the days preceding the improvements, for maintaining order in a very overcrowded and challenging jail facility.

For most of us, the jail is out of sight and out of mind. Every year, there are an estimated 10,000 people who go to the Brevard County Jail and after their release they stay out of trouble. I believe a great deal of their success belongs to the corrections staff, who works tirelessly to set a strong example and get those who have broken the law back on the right track. There are more than 400 brave and dedicated corrections professionals, who leave the safety of their homes to be locked for hours on end behind the solid steel doors of the Brevard County Jail. They do this to protect our citizens from harm and to turn the inmates' lives around. They risk their lives, so they can make a real difference in our community... and they do.

I have been very honored and blessed to work with each and every one of them.

Jack Parker

Brevard County Sheriff

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