Tuesday, February 6, 2007

New jails: Is there a need?

The following are excerpts from a Miami Herald article dated February 5, 2007, along with corrections and clarifications regarding the reporting in the story.

"...County commissioners approved $62 million last year to build a 1,000-bed jail in Pompano Beach. When it opens in 2009, it will be the county's third new lockup in less than a decade."

CORRECTION: In fact, the County Commission had budgeted $72 million dollars for the jail construction when the Broward Sheriff's Office offered to manage the project and have the jail built for less money. The Broward Sheriff's Office is not typically involved in the planning and construction of county buildings such as jails, but in this case, BSO is handling the construction for $62 million, saving the county and taxpayers an anticipated $10 million.

"...Critics say new jails don't actually improve public safety."

CORRECTION: Jails are not intended to improve public safety. They are intended to house individuals that the courts or laws require be removed from the general population. Improving public safety is accomplished through a combination of BSO's aggresive law enforcement together with other rehabilitative programs. The Broward Sheriff's Office runs many programs that are responsible for keeping thousands of people who benefit from the help out of jail.

"...The new, 1,000-bed jail will cost $62 million to build, or $62,000 per bed -- nearly double the last jail built, which opened in 2004, costing $36,600 per bed. The jails will be about the same size and layout."

CORRECTION: Building costs have risen significantly since the construction of the last facility. In fact, according to research by the Association of General Contractors of America, "...the cost of materials was flat in 2001, rose moderately in 2002 and 2003, then shot up by 10.1 percent in 2004. In 2005, that index climbed slightly more than the overall PPI [producer price index], 6.1 percent vs. 5.4 percent. In the [first three months of 2006] the construction materials PPI has risen a steep 2.5 percent....".

"...Broward County commissioners turned over the task of planning the new jail to Jenne, who will control which firms get the jail's construction and service contracts....Unlike local cities, whose elected officers must vote to award contracts to vendors at public meeting, the sheriff is the sole decision-maker who awards BSO contracts."

CORRECTION: The Broward Sheriff's Office process for selecting a contractor involved a three-person panel of experts that did not include Sheriff Ken Jenne. The three individuals independently evaluated and rated each bid submitted. Each potential contractor was evaluated on merits. Sheriff Ken Jenne did not submit any names, nor did he select any members of the panel. The final decision was made entirely by the panel.

"...To manage the jail population, Cloney and others say Broward judiciary and law enforcement must focus on reducing the average length of inmate stay, which is currently around 31 days."

CORRECTION: The Broward Sheriff's Office runs several programs designed to reduce the number of inmates, and the length of inmate stay. There are nearly 1,000 people in BSO's Drug Court Treatment Division. Over 700 individuals are currently in BSO's Day Reporting program. An additional 1,900 are part of BSO's electronic monitoring program. BSO also supervises over 4,000 people in our probation division.

"...The sheriff faced harsh questions about his decision for a $127 million, five-year contract he awarded in 2004 to a Coconut Creek-based inmate healthcare firm. The company, Armor Correctional Health Services, is owned by a major campaign contributor whose lobbyists included a close friend of the sheriff."

CORRECTION: For the reader's information, because of Armor's qualifications and performace, several other large agencies have also contracted for their services, including Hillsboro, Palm Beach, Seminole, Martin, Brevard, Glades and Escambia counties to name a few. Due to its quality of service and reputation, it is currently one of the fastest growing jail healthcare providers in the country. One of their executives was also recently selected to serve in a high-level position in the new administration in Tallehassee.