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Jail deficiencies in audit attributed to design

The county jail didn't meet some of today's operational standards in the audit, but they were not required 15 years ago when it was built.

By DUANE BOURNE
Published October 10, 2003

BROOKSVILLE - Despite their reaccreditation recommendation, American Correctional Association auditors said the Hernando County Jail had insufficient single-cells for inmates, lacked space for inmates to spend outside cells and didn't have enough room to house juvenile inmates.

Jail officials welcomed the audit results but blamed the facility's shortcomings on its dated design.

"I think we did exceptionally well," said warden Ellen Hawks, who took over from Kevin Watson in August. "Because of how the facility was constructed, those standards are beyond our control."

According to the audit released Thursday, Corrections Corporation of America, the private company that operates the jail, met all 440 mandatory standards established by the association for its operation.

The facility was also in compliance with more than 98 percent of the association's standards for correctional programs and facilities, several of which had been identified in audits performed in 2000 and 1997.

Quality assurance manager Cathie Sullivan attributed the problems to the design of the 15-year-old facility, which was built prior to the current standards. The jail is west of U.S. 41 on Spring Hill Drive.

"We'd love to have 100 percent compliance, but based on the plant design, we are unable to," Sullivan said. "There is nothing we can do about it."

For example, the jail was built with only seven single rooms, making it difficult for the jail to meet the standards of providing single cells to one-third of the jail population, or 100 rooms.

Single rooms make it possible for officials to confine inmates who may be considered a danger to themselves and others. Officials have converted space in the medical ward to hold such inmates, including minors.

Based on ACA standards, inmates 15 years or younger should be held in another facility. However, Florida law allows for the housing of adjudicated juveniles providing that they are separated from the general population, Sullivan said.

Currently, the jail has one adjudicated juvenile in custody.

Jail officials, however, will be in front ofthe correctional group in January, seeking waivers on that issue in addition to its lack of a covered recreation facility identified by the three-member team of auditors.

"None of the issues are a detriment to the quality of life of the staff or the inmates," Hawks said. "There is no issue with the quality of life here that is probably the reason why they have not addressed them before."

"The figure could only go upward because those are the things that would be addressed in the expansion designs," Sullivan added.

For the last year, county officials have been working on a plan to expand the county jail. They have set aside money in the capital improvement budget and recently hired an architectural firm, Clemons, Rutherford and Associates of Tallahassee, said Jim Gantt, the county's purchasing director.

The $8-million to $10-million expansion project, which could be financed through a bond issue, is needed to cope with the surge in Hernando County's population and jail population, an issue that has caught the attention of legislators.

Walking through the jail one recent Monday, U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville, could not help but comment on overcrowding at Hernando County Jail.

Currently, the jail averages between 295 and 315 inmates daily and 344 inmates on weekends.

Those numbers include inmates managed by federal authorities, such as the U.S. Marshal's Service and the Bureau of Immigration, Customs and Enforcement.

Warden Hawks said the head count is down substantially from six months ago when the facility housed between 325 and 350 inmates.

The expansion plan calls for an eight-unit "hub" design identical to the existing footprint of the facility, or an expansion of 200 to 250 beds.

Corrections Corporation of America provides corrections services to local, state and federal agencies, including seven facilities in Florida.

- Duane Bourne can be reached at 754-6114. Send e-mail to dbourne@sptimes.com

[Last modified October 10, 2003, 02:04:01]


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