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Pasco County jail's no-frills addition opens

LAND O'LAKES — At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, they used crime scene tape.

"In the toolbox of public safety, you're about to see the tool house," Pasco Sheriff Bob White said to people gathered Friday morning to see the new addition at the Land O'Lakes jail.

At most ceremonies for new buildings, people crow about the amenities. Here, White and Maj. Brian Head were proud of how sparse it is — stretching the dollars to construct a safe but bare-bones detention facility.

"It's not the Hilton," said Head, who runs the jail. "We took shortcuts on amenities, but we didn't take shortcuts on security."

Construction of the 96,000-square-foot addition began in March 2008 and was recently finished at a cost of $17.5 million. The building is attached to the old jail and more than doubles the capacity, bringing the total bed count to 1,432.

The addition features barracks-style pods: open rooms with metal bunk beds and metal picnic tables. Each pod houses 64 inmates. There are four pods on each floor, and the addition is three stories, making for a total of 768 new beds.

Each pod is self-contained. Inmates who live there will rarely leave. They will shower and eat and get visits from their attorneys and medical staff there. They will talk with visitors through video screens. Their mattresses are thin and green.

Inmates housed here will be medium-security, nonviolent offenders. They will be assigned their own rolls of toilet paper. There are no doors on the toilets or showers. Their mirrors are shiny metal, not glass. Everything is bolted to the floor.

There is one small television. A deputy will control the remote. It will usually be set on the Discovery or Weather channel. The inmates have a recreation area — a concrete box at the end of the room with metal-caged windows — which meets the minimum requirements for fresh air and light.

"It's no-frills," said Head. "It's not about being comfortable. It's about being here. It's not supposed to be a nice place.

"You're not supposed to enjoy it."

Head said the changes cut down on staffing and increase security. Previously, inmates had to be moved as a group to use the recreation yard. And, by having the video visitation, deputies won't have to move inmates to a visiting room and won't have to deal with citizens possibly bringing contraband into the facility. Now, those wishing to see inmates will go to video booths in the lobby.

Deputies monitoring the inmates have a new computer system, where they can open and shut doors by touching a screen — rather than the old system of knobs and keys, which is still in use in other parts of the facility.

The county's smaller jail in New Port Richey, which has 225 beds, will soon close and all of the inmates, deputies and support staff will be moved to Land O'Lakes.

White said the consolidation will save money. It had cost $4 million each year to keep the New Port Richey jail running.

The sheriff believes the jail is an "incredible tool for public safety." It's a deterrent — a place where inmates can be held safely, but it shouldn't be fun.

"This is not summer camp," White said. "This is hard core."

Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

By the numbers

96,000 Number of square feet in the new addition to the jail.

768 Number of beds added.

1,432 Total beds now at the jail.

$17.5M Cost of the

expansion.

Source: Pasco County Sheriff's Office

Pasco County jail's no-frills addition opens 11/13/09 [Last modified: Friday, November 13, 2009 8:39pm]

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