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Committee to study jail overcrowding

State Attorney Bill James unfurled a 6-foot long computer printout Tuesday and held it before startled Hillsborough County commissioners.

On it were the names of hundreds of criminals from Hillsborough County who had been released from prison long before their sentences were finished. And that, he said, was just a partial list. "We generally get three or four printouts like that a month."

The list was James' way of dramatizing the dilemma facing law enforcement officials in these days of high crime and tight budgets.

James praised the commission's latest effort to solve overcrowding in Hillsborough's jails.

The effort, led by Acting Commission Chairman Ed Turanchik, is aimed at doing more than just building expensive jail cells. Turanchik said it's time the county started looking at the larger problems _ such as the one James illustrated.

One reason Hillsborough's jails are bursting is because state prisons are overcrowded and release criminals who come home, commit more crimes and wind up in the county jail, James said.

The problem starts with juveniles, James said. "We have a juvenile justice system that is broken down," James said. "It just does not work."

Turanchik wants to expand the efforts of a local criminal justice planning committee to include issues such as juvenile justice that traditionally are handled by the state.

James and Chief Judge Dennis Alvarez endorsed the idea. Alvarez said the committee is willing to consider any ideas the County Commission has to tackle the problem.

The commission voted unanimously to ask the committee to study the county's current plans for jail space to see whether anything else can be done. The committee hasn't met for more than a year, partly as a result of a plan it developed three years ago that called for a new jail to be built on Falkenburg Road near Brandon.

Commissioners haven't figured out how to pay the nearly $40-million it will take for the new jail. The commission voted two weeks ago to build a temporary jail on Falkenburg to house nearly 400 inmates.

That decision should give the county time to consider alternatives to the permanent jail, Turanchik said.

The county is expected to go to court later this month to defend its efforts to ease jail overcrowding. The hearing was requested by the state Department of Corrections, which is losing patience with the county.

Turanchik said he wants to determine whether there are any ways to lower the cost of providing new jail space. Some of his ideas include alternative sentencing, drug treatment and boot camps for juvenile offenders. He also wants to determine whether there is any way to share the cost of new jail space with the state.

To do all that, Turanchik said, a broader cross-section of the community must be involved. "I really commend you for being willing to tackle this issue," James said.

Meanwhile, the County Commission delayed action on a proposal by Commissioner Jan Platt to re-open the county work-release center. Budget cuts forced it to close in August.