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Commission buys land for new jail

News Staff Writer

Although it was just the first step, Escambia County Commissioners have started a long and arduous process that will eventually lead to construction of a new county jail.
Commissioners announced that the county had agreed to pay $512,000 for 177 acres located behind Brewton Industrial Park — a per-acre price of just under $2,893 — for the new facility.
“It’s a very big step,” said Sheriff Heath Jackson. “This is something the former sheriff (Grover Smith) tried to address several times with the commission, and the commission is on board with it now. We’ve got the land, so now we can decide what we need to do next.”
With the acquisition of land sewn up, the next big hurdle is to find funding for the new building. The jail is expected to cost at least $30 million, and the county has a $15 million cap on the money it can borrow. An unstable building materials market will also play a big role in when the new jail will be built.
“Now we’ve got to figure out how to pay for it,” said District 4 Commissioner Brandon Smith. “There are some avenues we’re looking at; hopefully, there’s some federal money out there, too. Right now, with construction prices fluctuating so much, what cost you $30 million to build two years ago might cost you $60 million now. We’re kind of in a spot right now where we’ve got a lot of planning to do.”
The sheriff agreed, saying he and his executive staff are “working on some options that won’t cost the citizens of Escambia County.”
One potential source of revenue is the housing of an increased number of federal inmates. The Escambia County Detention Center, which began operations in 1992, is currently one of the relatively few county jails in Alabama that houses federal prisoners.
Plans for the 177-acre jail site include a garden for work release inmates and a fenced-in area in which livestock that is ordered seized by the court can be held. It will also be located in a more secure area, not as accessible to outside sources as the current facility and not as visible to passers-by.
“The main thing is, it will be off the beaten path, out of downtown,” said the sheriff. “People won’t be able to just drop by, and the location will cut down on the amount of contraband thrown over the fences.”
Smith reiterated that commissioners don’t have any idea yet when construction on the new jail might start.
“We don’t have a start date yet, but we’ve got the land purchased,” he said. “I don’t know how long it will be before we can get started on it. We’re not fixing to start laying bricks, so we’ve got time to wait out the (building materials) market, too.”