CLAY COUNTY, Fla. — Clay County Sheriff Michelle Cook and County Commissioners reviewed a ten-year plan this week that proposes the future design of a 'campus style complex'.
The complex is where, eventually, the sheriff's office, county jail, and other administrative buildings will relocate. The sheriff says the complex design will allow the department to operate more efficiently.
A small piece of the overall project is rebuilding the Clay County Jail. The jail is at more than 90% capacity. Bed and storage space is limited and staff are being forced out of their offices to make more room for inmates coming into the facility. Jail staff says it's quickly becoming problematic and eventually putting band-aids on large problems won't fix them.
"They don't deserve to be living in a space where they are sleeping on the floor, head to toe, and it just shouldn't be expected," said Chief of Administration for Detention Division Chris Sueflohn. "We're working tirelessly to fix it."
The Clay County Jail inmate population is exceeding the number of beds available in the dorms. Two general population dorms which are able to house 60 inmates in each, 120 total are over capacity with 157 total inmates in the dorms as of Friday. Some inmates have their own bunk bed while others are sleeping on the floor.
"Those two dorms had boats, a shell casing with a mattress on top with inmates living in them," Sueflohn said.
Sueflohn also discussed infrastructure concerns inside the dorms.
"Inmates are peeling paint off that has been layered on over the years and every year we go through and fix it, but it's a never ending battle," Sueflohn said.
He says there is also a need for more storage. The jail is using a former visitation room for that purpose.
"We used to be able to store in the correct places, like uniforms. We don't have enough storage right now because we had to use it for other things," Sueflohn said.
Eventually the visitation room and other personnel offices will be turned into dorms. He says believe it or not, crime rates are down, but the county is growing so fast, it even more difficult for the agency to keep up.
"Most people here beyond a twelve-month period are here because they waived their speedy trial process. They are given the right to prepare an adequate defense they've asked for more time, so now we have to incarcerate them longer because they are not safe enough or deemed safe enough to release them back in the community, or they have a bond issue to them and cannot afford to post the bond," Sueflohn said.
$9 million is set aside to build a new jail, but the concerns plaguing this facility is only a small piece of the overall issues the sheriff is addressing to fix in the overall proposed plan.
The sheriff also has goals to consolidate all of its operations and build a new sheriffs' office.