Special Committee Begins Hard Look at Improvements for JSO Facilities

In August, the City of Jacksonville kicked off a series of special committee meetings that will take a hard look at how best to address the critical issues facing Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO) facilities on a day-to-day basis.

The Special Committee of the Council to Review JSO Primary Facilities met on Wednesday, Aug. 16, for an organizational meeting to discuss how it will move forward in coming months, and to hear a presentation from JSO regarding the John E. Goode Pre-trial Detention Facility and the JSO headquarters at the Police Memorial Building on Bay Street.

The committee is comprised of Committee Chair Michael Boylan, Vice Chair Randy White and Council Members Jimmy Peluso, Chris Miller and Rahman Johnson. City Council President Ron Salem also attended the Aug. 16 meeting.

“We have a jail that’s 30-plus years old and needs to be replaced. It’s not a sexy issue, I get that,” Salem said in an opening address. “I think it’s a critical need for this community.”

Committee members mentioned recent tours they’d taken of the detention facility, noting “incredibly disturbing” and “abhorrent” concerns and conditions there.

Division of Labor

The committee will break into five working groups, each focused on a specific category of issues. The chairs of these working groups will be responsible for recruiting relevant stakeholders and experts to provide insight in their respective topic. In turn, each working group will then craft draft recommendations for stakeholders to review and consider before presenting draft recommendations to the committee as a whole.

“I’m looking for the co-chairs to identify one or multiple subject matter experts to each of these working groups,” Boylan said.

The question of whether potential new locations for the facility should be included in these committee meetings was raised by multiple committee members, including President Salem, however Boylan respectfully rejected the notion.

“I really want to try and keep location out of this conversation right now,” he said. “Clearly, location is going to be part of the conversation, but I think that’s going to be at the end of the day, when we have the consolidated recommendations of the working groups to say, ‘This is the kind of ways we can serve these processes.’ And if that’s a campus facility centrally located or something other than that, I think that’s a determination we will need to make at the time at which the recommendations are finalized.”

“Our focus is not on the external pressures to get it out of downtown or the external pressures to keep it downtown,” he said. “I want to get us focused right now on what are the best resources we need.”

These working groups and their chairs are:

  • Intake, Adjudication and Recidivism: Jimmy Peluso
  • Extended Diverse Detention (including housing for female and juvenile inmates): Chris Miller
  • Behavioral and Mental Health Services: Rahman Johnson
  • Improvements to Existing Facility: Randy White
  • Administrative Offices: Michael Boylan

A look at John B. Goode Pre-Trial Detention Facility

Chief of Prisons Division Joshua Benoit provided an overview of the current state of JSO’s pre-trial detention facility, painting a grim picture of overcrowding, costly and recurring maintenance issues and understaffing.

Opened in 1991, the jail consists of 629,000 square feet of air-conditioned space and houses approximately 2,600 inmates. The facility was initially designed to hold just under 2,200 inmates. Benoit explained that “temporary third bunks” were installed in the early 2000s, increasing the capacity to 3,137.

“But again, that’s three people per cell, every cell,” he said. “So, we have dorms that were designed to hold 50 people that are currently holding 75 and when it gets really tight, up to 85.”

Staffing is another major concern for the Department of Corrections, Benoit said. It is “currently 200 personnel short” with “the brunt of that” at the pre-trial detention facility.

Additionally, plumbing and HVAC issues continuously plague the facility at steep prices. Benoit cited the replacement last year of a chiller that cost approximately $325,000 and recurring problems with mold any time the air conditioning fails. Additionally, a recurring plumbing leak over the summer cost “thousands and thousands of dollars in damage in just a three-week span.”

Overall, Benoit said, last year’s repairs budget was roughly $3 million.

On the Police Memorial Building

In another presentation, JSO Assistant Chief Scott Dingee outlined issues the Police Memorial Building faces. This includes flooding problems, a severe lack of parking for the building’s 739 employees – whose parking facility only provides 215 spaces – and a dearth of office space to house all JSO divisions in the same building.

“All of our investigations and homeland security divisions are off-site,” Dingee said. “And that’s what would be housed in the Florida Blue building if we’re able to get that done, but of course, that’s additional millions of dollars of renovations and lease money that the city would have to spend just to do that.”

Ordinance 2023-494 was filed last month. It requests authorization for the City to lease roughly 59,000 square feet at the Florida Blue building at 532 Riverside Avenue.

According to the bill summary, the city would lease three floors for an initial 149-month lease with two five-year renewal options.

The bill summary read, in part, “The landlord will provide a Tenant Improvement Allowance of $3,447,950 and the JSO is required to contribute $1 million toward Tenant Improvements. The landlord will oversee and manage the build-out of all leased areas at a ‘not-to-exceed’ cost of $5,447,950.”

The Police Memorial Building is not without its electrical, structural and mechanical issues, Dingee added. Though the roof was recently replaced, Dingee noted leaking skylights, requiring repairs at a cost of $120,000 and an estimated $400,000 in repairs to a rooftop helipad “to make it safe.”

The building’s two elevators, both situated at one end of the building, present public access issues and are “constantly breaking,” Dingee added.

While not strictly in a flood zone, Dingee said the parking garage faces flooding issues, creating problems beyond JSO.

“On our base floor, on our lowest floor where the parking garage is, there are some servers at that level that if they flooded, could potentially affect the Main Street Bridge and other lighting and facilities nearby,” he said.

Moving forward, there will be standing weekly meetings for the special committee’s working groups, as well as periodic meetings for the committee as a whole to discuss each working group’s findings and progress.

These weekly meetings will begin Sept. 14.

By Michele Leivas
Resident Community News

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