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Morgan Street Jail era at end?

Officials want to close the facility - but there's a kink. The county has a contract to house federal prisoners.

By TAMARA LUSH, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 22, 2003

TAMPA -- The 40-year-old Morgan Street Jail, with its antiquated barred cells, problematic plumbing and spotty air conditioning, will close in June if sheriff's authorities get their way.

Friday, Hillsborough Sheriff's Office Col. David Parrish told the county Public Safety Coordinating Council that it "doesn't make sense" to keep Morgan Street open much longer.

The county's other two jails, Falkenburg and Orient Road, are "direct supervision" jails, meaning that one or two detention officers oversee 72 inmates in a dormitory-style setting.

Morgan Street is much more labor intensive because of its long hallways, a design that requires more officers for supervising prisoners.

Currently, about 150 federal inmates are housed at Morgan Street. The U.S. Marshals Service pays the county $5.5-million a year for the supervision of the inmates.

One of the reasons Morgan Street was chosen, Parrish said, was because it is just blocks from the federal courthouse in downtown Tampa.

At Friday's meeting, Parrish described a massive shift of inmates if Morgan Street is closed. Federal prisoners at Morgan Street would go to Orient Road, about 10 miles east. County prisoners from Orient Road would go to Falkenburg in Brandon, where additional housing, or "pods," of 512 new beds will open in May.

The new beds will be the first of many expansions at Falkenburg.

It would take the Sheriff's Office the same number of detention deputies to supervise 360 inmates at Falkenburg as it would to supervise 204 at Morgan Street, Parrish said.

There is only one kink in the plan to be worked out: the county must modify its agreement with the U.S. Marshals Service.

The federal agency would likely want to pay the county less money per inmate because it costs less to house people at Orient Road, Parrish said. To make up any shortfall, Parrish and Sheriff Cal Henderson have offered to transport the federal inmates to and from the courthouse.

The U.S. Marshals Service now takes the inmates back and forth.

Several years ago, the Hillsborough County Commission approved the closing of Morgan Street, but halted the plan when the Marshals Service asked to pay for housing their detainees.

Parrish said he has received a verbal agreement from the Marshals Service about his proposal. All that is needed now, he said, is for County Commissioners to approve the plan.

"We need to do this as quickly as we can," Parrish said.

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