Police Chief Connie Cooner Rowe said closing the city’s jail has been a priority for more than a year. She said her first inclination was to send inmates to the Walker County Jail.
“The most reasonable and logical solution to our problem would have been to contract with the county jail,” Rowe said.
Rowe said she worked with Sheriff John Mark Tirey for several months to come up with a contract.
“It solved our problem and he felt like it would be a revenue generator for him as well,” Rowe said. “After negotiations with the Walker County Commission failed, Mayor Sonny Posey and I let the city council know that ship just wasn’t going to sail. The mayor told me to start shopping. My first call was to Winston County Sheriff Rick Harris, because his facility was the next closest to our jurisdiction — 25 miles, door-to-door.”
Walker County Commission Chairman Billy Luster said commissioners didn’t want to house any more inmates for several reasons.
“We are close to capacity now, and adding an average of 40 more inmates wouldn’t be good,” he said. “If we added inmates, we’d have to add staff and supplies. It’s just not what we want to do. Chief Rowe said before that getting rid of liability is a good thing. We didn’t want to take on someone else’s liability. I’m glad the city was able to find someone to do that.”
Tirey said he felt the additional revenue would have been good for the county.
“We are in tough shape economically,” he said. “We could stand to make at least $100,000 a year off the deal. I was hoping that would help us buy some more vehicles. Our cars are in pretty desperate shape.”
Harris said he is happy with the deal. According to the agreement, Jasper will pay $32.50 per inmate, per day.
“We look forward to this,” Harris said. “We think this is going to be a good partnership. I assure you that myself and my staff are going to go the extra mile to make sure this works.”
Rowe said housing prisoners can be a lucrative business.
“If you have an existing adequate facility and empty bed space, filling the beds is the equivalent of renting the unoccupied rooms of an existing hotel,” Rowe said. “The structure, the staff, the utilities, the amenities — which in this case is food prepared on-site to meet the federal nutritional requirements and any medical dietary needs of prisoners, the services — which in this case is in-house medical and pharmaceutical treatment, and the operating system are already in place.
“For a nominal additional amount of actual cost to the facility, you fill the unused space and operate your facility at its maximum potential,” Rowe added. “Do the math. The largest percentage of what you charge to fill that unoccupied space is profit.”
The city will only send its misdemeanor prisoners to Winston County. Felony prisoners will continue to be held in the Walker County Jail.
Rowe said the closing of the jail was not just a business decision.
“This is a human and civil rights issue,” she said. “We are guided by our moral and ethical compasses, as well as, federal law and the United States Constitution — we must provide a safe and healthy facility that meets the primary and elementary needs of human confinement.”
Economics did enter into the decision, Rowe said.
“Based on projections and historically the amount of money being spent by the city to operate and maintain our jail, by outsourcing it, we either break even or save municipal funds,” she said. “Additionally, we shed the potential liability inherent to any confinement facility. I’d call that a win-win situation.”
In other police matters at Tuesday’s meeting, the council:
•Approved travel for Chuck Henderson to Corinth, Miss., for a basic computer investigation class.
•Approved overnight travel for Darryl Atkins to attend the Regional Organized Crime Information Center Conference in Nashville.
•Approved travel for Jeremy Owens and Greg Brown to attend Southern Software training in Montgomery.