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Columbia County Jail – $35,000,000: Replace or Renovate, The Conversation Continued

None of the officials took the loss of someone’s liberty lightly

Posted June 14, 2014  10:55 pm | Part II | Part I

The Columbia County Jail: The County 5 will decide to rebuild, renovate, or do nothing.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – In one of the few light moments during Thursday's Public Service Coordinating Council, County Judge Tom Coleman quipped about the Public Defender, "Blair’s the Public Defender – he thinks the jail should be abolished.”

Everybody laughed, but it was clear throughout the conversation that none of the officials took incarceration or the loss of someone’s liberty lightly.

Public Defender Blair Payne didn't miss a beat, "Our concern is more function – the functionality of that building out there. I think they are out of room. We need to have people examined by psychologists for in depth functional examinations. There is nowhere to do it out there. It causes problems."

The Public Defender continued, "The building is just not efficient. Our concern is ease of access to the inmates.”

County Jail Capacity Stats.           Click to enlarge

Jail Administrator Joe Lucas suggested that the committee come out for a tour of the jail.

County Manager Williams suggested that one of the meetings be at the facility.

In 2006, the committee thought the Jail needed a court room. County Manager Williams asked if having a court room in the jail was still an issue. Judge Coleman explained that with the current technology he didn’t think it was necessary.

The County Manager said all concerns go into the analysis of whether to build or remodel.

None of the Committee Is Enamored With the Legislature

State Attorney Siegmeister said, “The legislature has never been afraid to make a new crime, but someone’s got to pay for that decision.”

Judge Coleman added, "It probably would be interesting for you to know that conservatively, 40% of my case load is driving with a license suspended. I’m so cynical that I’m pretty sure that somebody in this room doesn't have a driver's license. We don’t do society any favors if we take a person off the street, if we don’t pay close attention to it, long enough that he loses his job or doesn’t have a license to get to work. In my court, because those are lesser crimes, I try to keep those people working; to keep them where they can access a license."

Public Defender Payne, "The problem is the legislature has gotten to where your driver's license is suspended for anything."

Judge Coleman added, "For anything."

State Attorney Siegmeister gave some legislative history, "In 1994 they passed a law that if you are found guilty of any drug offense, other than possession of drug paraphernalia, you lose your license for two years. It doesn’t matter if you are sitting on your couch or driving down the road."

Columbia County resident Ralph Kitchens asked how much it cost to house an inmate in the County Jail.

Sheriff Hunter answered, “Forty-eight dollars a day.”

Build It and They Will Come

Mr. Kitchens questioned the need for a new jail.

Sheriff Hunter said the County is growing and he is taking a long range approach and believes the County should consider a 500 bed jail. “I’m trying to use good business sense to do this,” he said.

Columbia County, according to the U.S. Census, after a slight run up in population in 2012, now has 12 more people that it did in 2010.

County Manager Williams, “Anything of that size you will be looking at a million and a quarter to a million and a half in debt service alone.”

Judge Coleman added, “If there were more room in the jail now, there would be more people in the jail now.”

Your reporter asked, “What is the average length of stay in the jail?”

County Manager Dale Williams, “I don’t know. It’s a good question.”

Sheriff Hunter is going to supply the statistic.

Your reporter followed up, “Do we know the amount of people in the County Jail that are from Columbia County and the amount of people that aren’t from Columbia County?”

The Sheriff said he thought it was a good question and explained that everyone that commits a crime in the County and gets arrested goes to the County Jail.

Judge Coleman said, “We get a lot of crime off the Interstate.”

State Attorney Siegmeister added, “It’s a valid question. At the end of the day, the County residents are paying for the crime that occurs in Columbia County.”

Go to Part I


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