1. News

Jails in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties prepare for influx of RNC-related inmates


Hillsborough has an entire jail exclusively dedicated to booking accused lawbreakers at the Republican National Convention.

It's a luxury afforded by an inmate population that has shrunk over the years, allowing deputies to move everyone to the larger of the county's two jails, Falkenburg Road Jail.

That leaves Orient Road Jail, capacity 1,700.

On Wednesday, deputies finished moving the last of the inmates out of Orient. For the next three days, its halls will be quiet.

Then starting at 6 a.m. Sunday, deputies will be prepared to take in three times the usual number of inmates.

Though officials say they have no idea how many arrests they'll make next week, Hillsborough Sheriff's Col. Jim Previtera said the department easily will be able to handle 1,000 extra inmates over the four-day convention.

And those are just RNC-related arrests. The usual bookings — domestic violence, DUI and such — will take place at Falkenburg.

This week, deputies surrounded the Orient Road complex with a tall fence. They will restrict access during the convention.

Inside, much has changed, too.

Sheriff's Office and court officials have spent the past 15 months planning an efficient assembly line, where inmates will quickly get medical care and one-on-one time with public defenders.

Previtera says he doesn't want to leave any room for liability. He aims to provide equal treatment for everyone and says he doesn't want to hold inmates longer than necessary.

At past political events, authorities have been accused of holding on to inmates to quell their protest. If everything is going smoothly, inmates could be out in as little as two hours, Previtera said.

On a tour of the Orient Road jail Wednesday, deputies said all arrested persons will enter the jail compound by bus or van. Hillsborough owns six and has borrowed eight more for the convention.

Inmates will be searched and must walk through a metal detector before entering the building. Then they'll see a long row of stations, where deputies will inventory their personal belongings.

From there, inmates will go to a waiting area, where they'll be moved in groups of 12 through the usual booking process, during which their information and fingerprints will be recorded, deputies said. The entire time, medical staff will treat people and serious cases will go to a separate medical bay.

The jail will have about 90 medical personnel working during the RNC. That includes six physicians, nurses, records staff and behavioral health professionals, deputies said.

All were provided through Armor Correctional Health Services, a Miami company. The RNC is such a major operation that Armor has temporarily moved its corporate offices to Tampa, said chief executive officer Bruce Teal.

The medics have been trained to handle everything from dehydration to dealing with inmates who aren't sharing their specific medical needs, Teal said.

This extra staffing will cost about $240,000, an amount covered by the $50 million federal grant for RNC security.

Each inmate will get to meet with a public defender before his or her first appearance, which will be broadcast from a quiet, carpeted room at the jail. The inmates will appear before a judge by closed-circuit TV.

Inmates can either post bail or, if they can't make the payment, they'll be held at the jail.

No one is getting any special transportation after release, deputies said. The procedures there have stayed the same: Take the bus, flag down a cab or use the pay phones to call for a ride.

Pinellas County also is preparing for a temporary influx in arrests during the convention, starting with Sunday's kickoff party at Tropicana Field.

Officials have prepared to house about 700 extra people, said Cecilia Barreda, spokeswoman for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

Most people arrested for RNC-related offenses will not be put with the general jail population, she said. Instead, those people will be housed in a section of the jail normally used for substance-impaired inmates.

If officials need more space, they will open up other areas of the jail that have closed in recent years because of budget cuts. They can also use a building formerly known as the female security center, which houses about 150 people, and two other buildings that each hold about 250.

Times staff writer Kameel Stanley contributed to this report.