I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Going to Jail

Friday Evening I toured Escambia County's Jail with staff

Friday evening I went to Jail.  Others in our community at 5:30PM on a Friday were going to happy hour, heading home to the family for dinner, a movie, or a date with their significant other--and I went to jail.

I went to the jail to tour it with staff that included Tamrya Jarvis, Director of Corrections, Selena Barnes, Jail Commander, Bill Cross, Court Liaison,  and several other staff members.  I appreciated the staff's willingness to take me on a tour of that facility and to highlight some of the issues of overcrowding that the jail faces.

Several of the pods had cells with three inmates, when the cells are designed to accomodate two inmates.  In these cells, the third inmate sleeps on a mattress on the floor.  Many of the inmates were in rooms without bars on bunk-bed style racks.  In one such room, the staff asked before we proceeded in  "Do you want to go in here, the inmates are out and about?"  I initially hesitated, because the shirt I was wearing is embroidered with "Jeff Bergosh, District 1"--and I wondered to myself how many of the inmates in the jail may have been put there by my brother, Judge Gary Bergosh?   Would this be trouble, would they mistake me for him or recognize my name?  "Several of the Judges have toured the facility--Judge Bergosh has taken the tour" said Karin, a counselor on staff

 that joined us on the tour.

I eventually went in and we talked to the inmates.  Several of them were awaiting classification and I was astonished to hear that nearly 70% of the population of our jail are awaiting adjudication, 70% are actually not yet convicted!

Many of the inmates have significant mental health issues;  "yes, that is what you think it is, he writes messages on the wall with feces" Commander Barnes told me pointing to one inmate who was rocking back and forth in his cell.

On the female floor, we walked through the pod and one of the staff said the female inmates are much tougher to deal with than the male prisoners--which was somewhat of a surprise to me.  "There is a lot of drama up here" she stated.

The infirmary and intake areas were interesting, the officers showed me a device called the "Restraint Chair"  for prisoners that are combative.   I had never before seen such a device.  "Once we get them strapped in to this device, they cannot defeat it, get out of it, roll it over, or get at us-- and we can move them around as necessary" said one of the officers.

When asked by the staff my thoughts on the jail as the tour came to an end- I just felt it was eye-opening and somewhat depressing.

"Believe it or not, I like working here.  If I can make a difference in the life of just one of these inmates then this is all worth it" said Barnes.

As the BCC moves toward selecting a contractor to begin construction of the jail's replacement, it was good to see firsthand some of the issues with the current facility that we want to improve with the next facility.   Now that another bidder has dropped out of this project and we are now down to just two bidders, I look forward to the two workshop meetings in August where we will hear proposals on the new jail.  I look forward to this with great interest.


Kay Campbell said...

Jeff Bergosh your a good man. This county is blessed to have you.

Kelly Senft said...

I've been on the tour twice it's very eye opening. I have worked in jails in the past from Massachusetts to a you jail in Florida.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for doing this. I know you have a lot of decisions to make and it is tough being in the place of public servant--- Sincerely,Peanut

Anonymous said...

While its great that a your was done. You can never get the full scope of what inmafes and staff are going through unless you're there with them. Please get the ball rolling on something to bring a little safety and security back to the staff and inmates. As right now all thats being shown is money. Safety of everyone is not being considered...just how much money is saved and how can we cram as many inmates as possible into the space.

Anonymous said...

Well said. Safety for staff and inmates needs to be a priority NOW and also when building the new facility.

Anonymous said...

The time for tours and talk has long passed. This might be the only official that is taking time to look at the jail. How about asking the end users what is needed in the new jail. It's a joke.

Anonymous said...

Commissioner May has toured the jail as well (on several occasions). What has happened is a political struggle with a prior county administrator that didn't want to give money to the sheriff to run the jail adequately. If I recall at the time of the vote, Commissioner May is the only one that voted against the county running the jail (smart on his part). What jail staff and the county are dealing with is a political mess that was created over 3 years ago and the new incoming commissioners and the county administrator are dealing with the after math and chaos of prior officials decisions. No doubt a jail belongs under the sheriff and it runs more efficiently and quite frankly, I would imagine this is a headache for the commissioners and the county administrator because you have five commissioners that receive phone calls about the jail from family members in jail. Typically, most county jails are ran by the sheriff. It's not a stab at the county by any means, but it is a law enforcement function that goes hand in hand with the sheriff. Jails are doubt about it. Many citizens don't want their tax dollars spent on a jail until there is a family member in there. The two most important factors in a jail are the safety of staff and inmates. What many don't understand is that a jail must maintain a level of medical and mental health care (and many if not most get better medical and mental health care during incarceration). They have the right to get medication as well as many self help programs. The 3 C's of corrections are the care, custody and control of inmates. Contrary to popular belief, there are many, many staff members that truly find the job of corrections rewarding. You must have the passion to do it and it's probably close to one of the most thankless jobs in the world.

Anonymous said...

Did You also visit the other Jail sites? There are more than 300 Jail inmates at work Release and county road prison. In those places there are no bars. The officers sit locked in the room with the inmates.

Anonymous said...

The jail you toured when it opened in the 80's was designed to be single man cells, a full floor had 48 inmates. Over the yrs the population has increased and the number of officers has decreased. A really bad deal for officers and inmates alike.

Anonymous said...

How many are in the jail vs its maximum designed capacity?

-deplorable peanut

Anonymous said...

A "tour" doesnt do justice to understand what it is like for staff assigned to the facility or for those incarcerated in an overcrowded understaffed facility. A 5:30 pm tour is after the evening meal has been fed and inmates are headed to lockdown status for the final day shift headcount and awaiting the start of the night shift. Meaning, that you really didnt get to see all that would be happening in an ever busy, full movement of inmates and staff going about the day.

Those cells were three people confined in them, were originally designed as a "single man cell", where those who were disruptive could actually be "locked down" in their cell for better control - ie: "timeout" - the same thing you would do with a child who misbehaved. In the late 1988/early 1989 those cells were "double-bunked" in an effort to increase capacity. This action lead to even greater issues within the facility.

Additional inmates meant for greater humidity within those pods. Greater humidity led to mold issues. Overcrowding led to sanitation and other maintenance issues. Despite lots of money being tossed into the pit, by installing glass shower enclosures, exhaust fans, etc - it doesnt eliminate the humidity of pods and mold remains an issue.

Maintenance gets ignored - ie: Painting, deep cleaning and other rehab - as there is no place to move an inmate to close a pod to allow work to be done. Every repair is piece-milled to do minimal work - its almost like putting a ace bandage on a broken arm and telling the patient not to move the arm and it will get better. After 30 years of ongoing neglect - and overcrowding - the building is worn out>

part 1/3

Anonymous said...

Maintenance gets ignored - ie: Painting, deep cleaning and other rehab - as there is no place to move an inmate to close a pod to allow work to be done. Every repair is piece-milled to do minimal work - its almost like putting a ace bandage on a broken arm and telling the patient not to move the arm and it will get better. After 30 years of ongoing neglect - and overcrowding - the building is worn out>

The open dormitory style pods were designed for 16 inmates. Again, bunk beds were installed - under Ron McNesby - to increase capacity. In fact, adding the third man to those double-bunked cells was also the genius of Dennis Williams under the authority of Ron McNesby. All those who make these atrocious decisions never have to deal with the daily problems caused by such decisions.

Those daily problems include exacerbated Mental Health issues. Inability of staff to segregate problem inmates. Lack of out of cell time leads to anger and aggressiveness issues among those incarcerated. The same overcrowding leads to personal hygiene issues, which can also lead to medical issues - ie Staph infections.

part 2/3

Anonymous said...

Overcrowding taxes the support services within the facility, to include: custodial and laundry service, access to inmate counselors, access to medical, and access to inmate programs. Many inmates opt to partake of inmate programs, not based on need or desire, but solely to get out of cell time from the overcrowded pod.

The above just acknowledges some of the issues within the main jail. Under Sheriff McNesby, staffing was reduced from 2 officers per housing unit or 4 per entire floor, to just 3 officers per floor. Often meaning that one floor didnt have an escort officer assigned to it. That left one officer to overs see anywhere from 64 to 100+ inmates.

The work release facility being used for housing, isnt much better. Poor decisions by Sheriff McNesby and continued under Sheriff Morgan and then by the BCC has lead to many of the issues.

One thing that continues to be a problem is the slow pace of resolving court cases. There is no fast track in moving criminal cases through the system. Inmates linger in the jail facility when they should be sent on to State Prison. Im not in fvaor of reducing bonds, or granting free releases for minor crimes. Time and time again, it has shown that those who cant afford to make bond and get an easy court release just go on to commit more crime or fail to appear for their scheduled court date.

Sadly, the BCC has drug its feet way too long on building a new facility to replace the CBD unit damaged in the 2014 explosion. Furthermore, based on what is being published, any new jail wont have the capacity to accommodate current inmate levels or have room to grow for future needs. It has also been suggested that the design may also severely limit the ability of staff to lockdown unruly inmates and segregate them for those who are rule compliant. If you dont work day in day out within the corrections environment, you just dont grasp the issues related to one of the three basic "C's" of correctional professionals - "CONTROL" of inmates.

I am happy to have retired from the Corrections and the County Jail. This current group of elected Commissioners must do their due diligence to ensure those who work and those who are incarcerated in this and any future facility are safe. There are no shortcuts in corrections.

Lastly, no tent cities. No more triple bunking and squeezing in another sets of bunk beds to increase capacity while failing to increase staffing. In fact, based on the current capacity levels, the overall staffing levels need to be increased by at least 10% to maybe 25%.

Each of the Commissioners should take the opportunity to work a 12-hour shift at the jail every month, until the new facility is built. Maybe then, the BCC will understand why its is so important to get the next jail built "right" versus being built inexpensively.

part 3/3

Anonymous said...

You should also request a tour of the work release facility that is even more grossly overcrowded than the main jail. This facility is 100% direct supervision and one of the most dangerous posts for a corrections officer. The shifts are understaffed and are an unsafe working condition. Thank you for your interest in one of the most underserved departments in Escambia County.

Anonymous said...

Agreed with most of the above comments if something serious is not done soon in the near future "we are going to have a Riot that we can not control due to lack of staffing and over crowding"

Anonymous said...

If they really want to see the heart of problems they should do a ''ride along'' on a under staffed Monday day shift for a full 12 hours. With officers that work the floors and pods every day instead of just a jail tour. Disclaimer here not knocking at any one or at how things are ran or anything just one man's opinion here, I just really think it would be way more beneficial.

Jeff Bergosh said...

Thank you to all who have replied to this post. Believe me, I will take what you have said to heart and I will visit this jail again during prime time and I will also make it a point to visit the road camp as well. In a little over a month, we will be looking at the proposals from the last two bidders, and I am going to go through this meticulously to ensure that safety for employees and inmates is the number one priority. God knows we will be spending enough to build the replacement--I will do my level-best to make sure we get it right and keep the end-users of this jail prioritized in the design. Again I thank all of you who commented and called me about this post.

Anonymous said...

And build it with the future in mind. Make it easy to repair, easy to expand, easy to upgrade things like camera systems. Limit blind spots, make doors remotely controlled. This is an opportunity to show the rest of America we have the most advanced technology to safely house our inmates and protect our staff and the public. Please don't piss it away.