Sheriff to charge cities for housing minor-crime inmates
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Escambia County Commission members gave unanimous approval during their September 25 meeting to “tri-party intergovernmental service agreements” that will require the county’s cities and towns to start paying for housing non-felon inmates in the county jail.
The new agreement calls for contracts with Atmore, Flomaton, Brewton and East Brewton under which $35 per day will be charged for Escambia County Detention Center inmates whose cases will eventually be heard or settled in city court or district court.
There will be no charge for those jailed for felonies or other state offenses.
Atmore Police Chief Chuck Brooks said this week Sheriff Heath Jackson’s new rule won’t have much of an effect on his department, as Atmore is reportedly the only city or town in the county with its own jail.
“I haven’t sat down and negotiated with the sheriff, but this won’t be a problem, not for Atmore Police Department (APD) anyway,” Brooks said. “I believe we’re the only police department (in Escambia County) that has a jail. It’s not going to be an issue for us. [The sheriff] is responsible for housing anybody arrested for a felony, and there’s no charge for that.”
Under the original arrangement, between former Sheriff Grover Smith and police chiefs in each city, Smith agreed to house all prisoners in exchange for police in each city or town handling calls within their respective police jurisdictions (PJ), which are designated areas just outside their city or town limits.
“We had an agreement with the former sheriff that we would patrol the police jurisdiction, and he would house our extended-stay inmates,” Brooks said. “He apparently no longer wants to do that.”
The new jail rules won’t affect APD’s presence in the police jurisdiction, he said, at least not for now.
“We’re not going to put the public in danger,” Brooks said. “We will always respond to emergency calls, as long as the sheriff wants us to do that. Right now, APD is going to provide the best public safety we can, in the city limits and in the PJ. Until we have an extended contract with the sheriff, we will still patrol the PJ.”
Atmore Municipal Jail has room to house 24 inmates at any given time, six cells with four bunks in each. There are four cells designated for male inmates and two for females. Two part-time employees with experience in the corrections field have been hired to oversee the inmates.
Brooks noted that APD’s relatively new work release program will help prevent overcrowding at the city lockup.
“We try to bond (non-felony inmates) out as quickly as we can,” he pointed out. “Our intent is not to keep people in jail. Most non-felony inmates — those charged with shoplifting, non-traffic citations and that kind of crime — can wash police cars, pressure wash city hall and clean up around the city hall complex. They work six to eight hours a day and get credit for $100 against their fines each day.
“If a person comes in and stays in jail with a $300-400 fine, at least now they can earn money to pay off those fines. Then they get out and don’t have to look back. If they’re in jail and don’t have a job, they can’t make money to pay their fines, so we do everything we can to try and get those fines off them. A lot of inmates have taken advantage of that.”
Brooks reiterated that the new county jail policy won’t have a negative effect on law enforcement in Atmore or the areas immediately outside the city.
“We’ll continue to work with the sheriff’s office,” he said. “We help them, they help us. Nothing is going to change.”