Viewpoint: County cannot run the jail

By Rick Outzen
Inweekly publisher

–The worse decision in the history of the Escambia Board of County Commissioners was the 4-1 vote in the summer of 2013 for the county to take over the county jail.

The decision was driven by County Administrator George Touart, Commission Chairman Gene Valentino and a group of Sheriff Morgan haters who thought they could embarrass the two-term incumbent and possibly profit from privatizing the jail and its health care.

Since the county took over the jail, we have had Central Booking & Detention Center explode in April 2014–killing two prisoners, crippling a correction officer and injuring hundreds, and seven other jails from a 14-month period from Nov. 2, 2014-Jan. 15, 2016.

The county stepped up its supervision, reworked its policies and changed leadership, which broke the string of deaths for a short time.

However, the deaths have started again. We’ve had two deaths this year – both times the prisoners died after being transported from the jail to a hospital room.

In February, a 38-year-old man was found unresponsive in a general population area of the jail. The county said the inmate died shortly after being taken to the emergency room.

On Friday, March 30, King Solomon Fountain, 35, died while in custody of the county jail. Fountain was booked into the jail shortly before 2 a.m. on a charge of cocaine possession. He was dead by noon.

The buzz is both deaths were drug-related.

Meanwhile, the county has begun its search for its fourth corrections director in less than five years.

It’s time everyone put their hurt feelings, egos and politics aside and work out how to transition the county jail back to the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office. The Valentino-Touart experiment has been a disaster, costing the county millions of dollars and too many lives.

Political strategists say Sheriff Morgan would be a fool to take back the jail, but people are dying – which should trump politics. The citizens should come first –isn’t that the heart of public service?

The jail worked best when it was tied to law enforcement and its para-military chain-of-command. The county bureaucracy is clearly over its head.

How do can the citizens make it happen?

I suggest the BCC give Sheriff Morgan whatever he says he needs to implement his pay plan for the deputies and then do the same for the jail. If the BCC needs to eliminate departments or consolidate county services with the city of Pensacola to find the funds to pay for it, do it. Taxes and fees may have to be increased.

The only thing the public should ask of ECSO is to post its financial reports online on a monthly basis so the citizens can see how the agency is performing versus the budget. The transparency would build public confidence in the agency’s financial stewardship.

The county jail cannot continue as it has, and we can’t pretend it will ever get much better under the county administration.


3 thoughts on “Viewpoint: County cannot run the jail

  1. The Smartest thing that the County EVER DID was to stand of to the never seen a tax he did not like Sheriff. Every time we turn around he is demanding that the Commissioners jack up our taxes even further to fund some scheme. The Jail was taken from his when he showed up asking for 18 Million, then 12 million, then 9 Million, then 6 million and the county was able to do the same for a little more than 2 million and gave pay raises in the process!!!

    I also would argue that the Jail has also been run more professionally and with less scandal that the Sheriff. I still ask why he did not or was not more involved with the flooding repairs that led to the explosion. Furthermore, I do not recall any secret recording devices in the Attorney Client areas under the County Control either.

    The Jail needs to remain right where it is. The Sheriff has his hands full just trying to get deputies from leaving, training and soaring crime rates while the rest of the US and State are seeing dropping crime rates.

  2. Has the jail improved conditions since DOJ’s 2013 findings that the county routinely violates prisoners’ constitutional rights? And, I agree with county’s need for transparency. The entire county should have an online dashboard available to the public.

    As crime rates continues to fall, Escambia county incareration rate remains 80% higher than the state average. Two-thirds of the inmates are pre-trial. Building and managing a smarter jail system is a beginning to reducing costs. Prompt hearings and resonable bonds will reduce inmate population.

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