|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.