Pasco sheriff says jail needs more room
LAND O' LAKES -
Administrators at the Land O' Lakes Jail compare it to an assembly line.
When one inmate gets released, there's another being escorted into the facility to take his or her place.
Last week, the facility, which has a capacity of 1,432 inmates, reached its highest count at 1,550. That upward trend, which has been happening during the past two decades, has Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco and Maj. Ed Beckman, who heads the Land O' Lakes Jail, urging county commissioners to approve a jail expansion.
“We're tough on crime and we're going to continue to be tough on crime. We're not going to stop arresting people who commit crime,” Nocco said. “I don't see any major alternatives than the fact that we're going to have to expand our operations in the detention facility.”
The sheriff, who unveiled a detailed budget Friday at a news conference, said a jail addition should happen before the construction of a $28 million, eight-courtroom courthouse in front of the jail.
Ted Schrader, chairman of the county commission, agrees something needs to be done with the jail, but financial constraints may keep it from happening as soon as Nocco and Beckman would like.
“Chris indicated he recognizes that I can't keep going to the county commission and asking for large capital expenditures on a year-to-year basis. I need to come up with a capital plan to do that,” Schrader said. “I'm hopeful that he's working on something like that. We have a good rapport and a good line of communication and we need to continue that dialogue.”
Schrader said a master plan must be worked out, which will give a certain number of years to collect the necessary funds to pay for the addition. The jail opened a new wing — C Pod — in November 2009. Only two of the three floors were opened. The 19-month project cost $17.5 million.
“He certainly is sensitive to the budget constraints that the county has and he obviously reads the newspapers and recognizes that according to the property appraiser our growth is flat,” Schrader said. “The assessment was flat this year. The board's got some decisions to make. … I don't disagree with him in terms of trying to come up with a master plan for the central Pasco judicial facility, or compound if you will, but we're talking about possible different dollars to build the judicial center.”
One of the commission's major priorities is to approve a pay raise for county employees. Schrader said the increase will be up to 3 percent. That issue remains in the planning stages.
He said there are recurring tax dollars that can be earmarked for the jail, in addition to setting aside future Penny for Pasco income.
A temporary solution would be to open the third floor of the new C Pod wing. It sounds simple, but that takes money as well, Schrader said. Funds would be needed for deputies to man that portion, which has room for an additional 256 beds.
The additional floor will only make a small impact on the overcrowding situation.
“Once the third floor opens, sure, we're going to gain 256 beds, but if we're averaging 350 inmates on the floor, we're still going to have 100 in temporary bunks on the floor,” Beckman said.
The overcrowding issue also affects deputy safety.
“Our ratio is high between inmates and deputies, which creates a deputy safety issue for us,” Nocco said.
Another issue is the female population at the jail. While most facilities in the country have an average female population of 12 to 15 percent, 20 to 25 percent of Pasco County's inmates are female, Beckman said.
That forces the system to spend more money because medically, female inmates are more expensive. For instance, a woman who is pregnant and addicted to some form of drug must be treated at the facility, Beckman said.
Schrader said he expects to see the sheriff's office's budget on Monday. A large portion will deal with jail expansion.
“If the sheriff doesn't get the additional personnel for the expansion this year, we're going to have to talk about the consequences of not doing it this year and considering it next year,” Schrader said.
Nocco also pointed toward the economy as an indicator that could affect inmate population. Unemployment numbers are decreasing and money being spent is increasing.
That bodes well for both the economy and criminals.
“It's interesting, people have a perception that when the economy is bad, crime goes up. It's the exact opposite. When the economy gets better, crime goes up because crime is based off opportunity. So we know as the economy gets better, it doesn't mean we're going to see a decline in our jail population. We're probably going to see this increase continue. That is a critical issue for us that we have to look at as a county.”