2013 In Review: Escambia County Jail
A five-year federal investigation of the Escambia County Jail was released in May, painting a bleak picture of the facility.
Exactly who would run the jail on September 1st – the original deadline -- was front and center at a Commission agenda review meeting in June. The main sticking point was a letter from Commissioner Grover Robinson to Sheriff David Morgan. Robinson said if running the jail was beyond Morgan’s capacity, he – Robinson – would be glad to relieve him of that duty.
Robinson also stated in the letter that he would be – quote -- “available to work with you if you desire a true cooperative spirit to resolve our problems” – end quote.
Morgan chafed at the letter. He wrote back to Robinson, saying management of the jail was well within his capacity and the capacity of his staff. Robinson defended his letter, saying everyone has opinions and everyone is free to share them with anyone.
Morgan told the Commission that he needed at least $5.2 million in additional funding to keep control of the jail and assuage the DOJ. He repeated his claim that since taking office in 2009, the ECSO budget had been cut by $2.6 million.
Changing control of the jail wasn’t a new idea. Sheriff David Morgan pointed to another DOJ report in 1983, which led to construction of the current-day facility and its takeover by the Sheriff’s Office from the County Commission.
The final weekly transition meeting dealt exclusively with the ECSO’s Internal Service Fund, which is used to set up and pay for accrued leave. The County wanted to eliminate it, while representatives from the Sheriff’s Office argued to keep it. In the end, the agreement was to abolish the ISF. Its $1.7 million was placed into the ECSO’s budget to fund employee leave next fiscal year.
With the meetings done, October 1st – the start of the new fiscal year -- became the hard target date for the transfer. On that day, the Escambia County Jail became the responsibility of the County Commission, without any hoopla, ceremonies, or speeches. It was, in modern-day business parlance, a “soft rollout.”
In late December, the Department of Justice issued a 28-page draft settlement in the County Jail investigation. It targets a low guard-to-inmate ratio and the resulting violence; along with inadequate mental health care. Another issue – the segregation of African-American inmates – was discontinued earlier this year. The settlement also calls for new policies and procedures – including stricter monitoring and hiring additional officers. The Escambia County Commission is expected to discuss a response at its January 2 meeting.