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'We're in the rehabilitation business'

By JACOB H. FRIES, Times Staff Writer
Published September 24, 2007


Major Alexis Davis looks around an overcrowded infirmary with facility manager Captain Timothy Downs while touring the new Pinellas County Jail Health Care Facility in Largo. Davis has been tapped to take over the Pinellas County Jail, the first woman to do so.
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[MARTHA RIAL | Times]
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[MARTHA RIAL | Times]
Major Alexis Davis pauses to speak with a female inmate who is under close observation.

LARGO - One thing you can say about working in a jail. You never cease to be surprised.

Just ask Alexis Davis.

She started at the Pinellas County Jail in 1982, rose through the ranks and became a captain 14 years later. Now, at the end of this week, she will be promoted to major and will assume control of the entire jail, the first woman to hold the position. She'll oversee a staff of 1,240, a budget of $131-million and 3,400 inmates a day.

But even with all her experience, the work keeps her on her toes. On Friday, while touring the jail's new medical building with a reporter, she learned that a suicidal inmate had just smashed his dentures to pieces and used them to slice his arms.

He survived. But Davis, 53, could only shake her head.

"That's a new one!"

You have a degree in education, so why did you decide to work in a jail?

My sister got a job here, and I had been laid off in Alabama. That's how I ended up here. It was a job at the time. I needed one. It was the first time I had been in a jail, and I was ready to turn around and walk out the door the first few days. But in time, it became interesting - interacting with people.

What are your top three priorities as you assume this new position?

One, of course, is overcrowding. And then there's recidivism because, for me, to affect overcrowding, recidivism has to change. Hopefully what we do will affect that. ... My other goal is to increase the number of training opportunities that we offer here.

How has the mission of the county jail changed in your 25 years?

Overall, I'm not sure, but for me it's changed. We're now managing inmates instead of warehousing them. I believe we're in the rehabilitation business whether we want to be in it or not.

How has the profile of the average inmate changed?

I see them getting younger and younger, both males and females, and more mothers. I mean they're 18, 19 years old. It's crazy.

What effect does it have on a deputy to see the same inmates return to the jail again and again?

We try not to be judgmental or get too involved, but when you see the same ones ... it's really sad.

If money were limitless, how would you improve the jail?

More education. Something like a trade. I'd give them something they can quickly use to get jobs on the outside.

Being the first woman to run the Pinellas County Jail, do you feel any additional pressure?

No, absolutely not. I never really thought about it.

Jacob H. Fries can be reached at jfries@sptimes.com or 727 893-8872.

[Last modified September 23, 2007, 22:41:27]


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