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With crime down, Hillsborough's Orient Road Jail is almost emptied

TAMPA — On Friday, the Sheriff's Office essentially shuttered Hillsborough County's oldest standing jail.

All inmates, except those just booked, are now held at the Falkenburg Road Jail.

The 20-year-old Orient Road Jail is occupied only by the intake center, the jails' kitchen and the offices of several officials.

Pods once bustling with 72 inmates and filled with the sound of card games and daytime television are now silent. The air is stagnant and the lights are dark. The space simply isn't needed, said Col. Jim Previtera, who's in charge of the county's jails. Five years ago, the county had about 4,500 inmates. Now it has about 3,000, the capacity of the larger Falkenburg jail.

"Crime is down in the county," he said. "Three years ago, we had about 70,000 bookings. Last year, we had 56,000."

Consolidating the inmates to one jail will save on utilities and deputy resources, Previtera said. The Sheriff's Office estimates it will save $25,000 to $50,000 a month on bills and overtime. No staff cuts are expected due to the consolidation.

For May, the electric bill is down about $17,000 across both jails, records show.

The shift to Falkenburg started a year ago, when jail officials shut Orient's north wing. In the past eight weeks, they moved the remaining 500 inmates from the south wing.

One by one, they transported the 28 high-profile inmates under high security. They're still confined and closely watched. Inmates' living conditions, access to medical care and recreation haven't changed, Previtera said.

The Orient Road Jail, which has about 1,700 beds, opened in 1990 to ease Hillsborough's prisoner overcrowding.

Though it's not currently needed, sheriff's officials don't plan to lease the space or sell the building. The expect they'll need the space in the future and are poised to reopen sections during the Republican National Convention in August 2012.

"We'll probably see mass arrests of protesters," Previtera said. "That's almost a given."

Instead, jail officials are using this time to make about $870,000 in repairs, much of it to the air-conditioning system and plumbing.

About $370,000 has already been budgeted for repairs that have begun.

Previtera estimates $500,000 more will be needed to replace the air handlers. The Sheriff's Office plans to redirect sales tax money that was planned for projects at Falkenburg over the next two years to Orient Road.

With crime down, Hillsborough's Orient Road Jail is almost emptied 06/17/11 [Last modified: Friday, June 17, 2011 9:38pm]
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