On any given night, the Hillsborough County jail becomes a sort of wayfarer's inn.
Some inmates are hours from making bail. Others are on an extended stay, counting the days to a court appearance. But a few detainees register with a designation that speaks more of the journey than the destination: "IN TRANSIT."
But in transit where? For what?
It's a practice so common that hardly anyone notices. Jails take care of other people's prisoners.
During the last year, more than 800 inmates spent a night in the Hillsborough County jail while on their way to another destination, said Col. Jim Previtera, who runs the jails.
About 140 inmates stayed overnight in the Pinellas County Jail during 2009 while being held for another authority, said Marian Garret, the inmate records and alternative sentencing supervisor for the Pinellas County Jail.
Specific numbers were not available from Pasco County, but the practice is much the same.
"It happens all across the country," said Pinellas County sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Tom Nestor. "An agency might be transporting a prisoner or inmate from state or federal agencies to another jurisdiction and because of the length or miles involved they need somewhere secure to stay overnight."
The inmates come from across the state and from various agencies. They stay for just a few hours or long enough to catch some sleep.
Some, like Laurent Bracey, are picked up on warrants in other counties and need to be transported back to where the crime occurred.
Bracey spent Wednesday night in the Pinellas County Jail. It was just a pit stop for the 29-year-old man arrested on a warrant in Orange County. He was to be transferred more than 900 miles away to Harris County, Texas, Garret said.
He was one of a few inmates aboard a prisoner transport bus making its way from the south part of the state to other parts of the country, Garret said.
Some, like Sarka Veverkova, are picked up by U.S. Border Patrol officers on immigration charges and need somewhere to stay for the night before they are sent to an immigration facility.
Border Patrol officers arrested Veverkova, 18, on Monday night as she stepped off a Greyhound bus at the downtown Tampa bus station, said Steve McDonald, agent in charge at the U.S. Border Patrol Tampa station.
The Border Patrol randomly checks the citizenship status of people aboard buses arriving in Tampa, McDonald said.
The Czech Republic native's visa was expired, he said, so she was booked in to the Hillsborough County jail for a six-hour stay until officials could bring her to the nearby Immigrations and Customs Enforcement office for processing the next day. She was bailed out and was released to family from there, McDonald said.
Out-of-town inmates get mostly the same treatment as the rest of the jailhouse guests. Deputies book them, take their picture and when mealtime comes, they are fed. In Pinellas County, the inmates may even get breakfast-to-go if there is an early transport scheduled, Garret said.
Because most of the inmates only stay for a night, they are often held in booking area cells instead of long-term housing. In Hillsborough County, that means a bench could act as a bed for the night.
"It's basically just a courtesy hold," Previtera said. "We secure their inmates for the evening and it allows their staff the adequate rest they need."
With no immigration detention facilities north of Broward County, a bay area jail comes in handy if inmates need to be sent by van or bus to the Broward County jail or the Krome Service Processing Center in Miami the next day, McDonald said.
"The partnership saves a lot of government tax dollars and allows us to be more effective and efficient as a federal agency to do our job," he said.
A contract between the federal government and local jails makes the situation possible. The jail can charge the government according to each county's contract, which ranges from $65.48 in Hillsborough to $80 per day in Pinellas.
But in Hillsborough, the decision to enforce the contract depends on how long the inmate's stay is.
"We don't usually charge unless they are with us for an extended period of time," Previtera said.
Shelley Rossetter can be reached at (813) 226-3374 or firstname.lastname@example.org.