LAND O'LAKES — As the Hernando County officials walked up the ramp up to the lobby of Pasco County's jail Tuesday morning, a man on a ladder doing routine maintenance work embodied one of the main reasons for the visit.
The commissioners and other officials wanted to compare their jail, which is fraught with maintenance and structural problems, to Pasco's detention center, which appears to be keeping ahead of the rust and corrosion.
As Commissioner Dave Russell put it after the tour, "I don't think there is any comparison at this point'' between Pasco's jail and Hernando's. "Frankly, they're light years ahead of us.''
County Administrator David Hamilton has urged commissioners to tour the Pasco facility, which is just a few years newer than the Hernando jail, as they consider how to bring their facility up to an acceptable standard.
Corrections Corporation of America, which has run the Hernando jail for 22 years, put the county on notice several weeks ago that it will end its contract at the end of August. Last week, commissioners voted to have Sheriff Richard Nugent take over operations. The formal ordinance to make that official is expected to be on next week's commission agenda.
Officials on Tuesday got the full tour treatment on their visit with Brian Head, jail bureau commander, ticking off statistics about his facility's 1,442 beds and 55 medical beds, his 380-person staff and the 200 cameras that pan and peek into every corner of the facility.
But the real impressions were made as the tour moved around the facility. The group included Head's staff, county officials, county jail monitor Barbara Fisher and Michael Page, the former Pasco jail commander who has been tapped by Nugent to run the Hernando jail.
As County Administrator David Hamilton gazed out into a housing pod inside the facility that had recently been renovated, he said he felt a bit like "home'' because the Pasco facility was like the jails he had seen when he worked in Minnesota.
"This is what a county jail looks like,'' he said. "It's a function of maintenance to a high level.''
He marveled as the group wound through the various portions of the facility from the laundry to the housing pods, the receiving area, booking and the kitchen. As the group headed out to see the tentlike structure outside that houses lower-security inmates, Hamilton pointed out walkways, overhangs and other features of the area that were clean and maintained.
"The pride of ownership is evident in this facility,'' he said.
One thing commissioners did not see were the cracking walls and floors, rusting doors, cloudy windows and water damage from roof leaks that are throughout the Hernando jail.
They were impressed with other features as well.
Commissioner Rose Rocco nodded approvingly as Pasco officials described cost-cutters such as using inmate uniforms as long as possible, including having prisoners sew ripped clothing; having inmates make their own sheets and dye underwear to make them last longer and cover up unsightly stains.
Head noted that many of these ideas came from his own staff. "Someone down here in the pit came up with this,'' he said. "They've done a good job.''
While he talked about the myriad ways the jail has saved money, he also warned the county officials not to cheap out whatever computerized inmate management system that it adopts, saying it is key to being efficient, providing documentation and keeping a handle on the population.
Head also showed different ways to minimize the time staff had to spend moving inmates from one place to another, moves that cost money in employee time.
Commissioners quipped about how much time each had been spending in jails lately, and how the so-called "rubber room'' in the medical wing for inmates could have a broader use.
"Three more years as county administrator and you'll need that,'' Russell jokingly told Hamilton.
In a more serious vein later, Russell praised the Pasco jail crew for their use of technology and "free market thinking'' in such areas as having inmates grow their own food and in recycling.
"It's the little things where you look to save money. That's no different than the private sector,'' he said.
Druzbick said he was encouraged to hear that inmates did so much of the work from tending cows and pigs to washing the laundry to preparing the food to even completing the tiling work on the floors.
"I think all of this is a good example of what I think our sheriff is looking to do here,'' Druzbick said. "I am more encouraged now than ever before that he can better run the jail and save us the money we need to save.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.