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Program saves jail money, manpower

On a card table at the Pinellas County Jail on Thursday, inmates put together the pieces of a large jigsaw puzzle and sipped fresh-brewed coffee.

Other inmates played checkers, moved from one open pod to another or watched television. All 88 inmates moved around freely in C Barracks, mingling with the one detention officer on the floor.

It was a daily scene in the direct supervision section at the jail, where certain inmates who sign a contract are given more comforts and freedom in exchange for good behavior.

"I look at direct supervision as community policing in the jail," said Maj. Hal Wilber, who is detentions director. "Inmates don't vandalize, they don't fight, they have one undisputed leader _ the detention deputy."

Direct supervision in detention facilities began in federal prisons in the early 1980s, and the concept has spread and evolved. C Barracks at the Pinellas jail in Largo recently was converted into a more open section to permit direct supervision of inmates. Some doors were removed, stainless steel tables and benches bolted to the floors were replaced with other tables, shelves were installed for inmate belongings and linoleum was installed over concrete floors.

Inmates in the program agree to abide by rules that require good behavior and responsibility for taking care of their own living quarters. Fewer detention deputies are required to supervise inmates, and deputies are in the pods with inmates.

Two deputies _ one in the control room and one in the pod _ supervise the 88 inmates. Wilber said usually four deputies would be required for handling that many inmates.

"It's a much better way to do things," he said. "You save money through architecture, you need fewer officers and use of force incidents drop. It's a big benefit to taxpayers."

Since direct supervision began two months ago, Wilber said, only two or three inmates have been returned to the more restrictive section of the jail for violating rules. A jail expansion project scheduled for completion in 1997 will be almost exclusively direct supervision.

The inmates in the program are men awaiting trial on felony charges.

While Craig Motley, 38, waits for his violation of community control trial, he conducts Bible classes in the direct supervision area. He appreciates being able to get fresh coffee and having cold water to drink.

"'You get an opportunity to respect one another," Motley said. "There's less stress and not as much opportunity for fights to arise."

Bryan Eismon, 35, who was charged with dealing in stolen property, said detention deputies in the program treat inmates fairly and equally. He likes the freedom to move from pod to pod and the cleanliness of the barracks.

"This is a sweetheart deal compared to the Polk County Jail," Eismon said. "You respect what they give you here."