SARASOTA COUNTY – The county has temporarily put the skids on plans to begin looking for a site to build a new jail, saying the public needs to be convinced first that one is needed.
County commissioners turned skittish Tuesday over approval of a $209,000 contract to hire a jail consultant, who would be charged with designing a new jail and suggesting where it might be built. Commissioner Joe Barbetta said he didn’t want a repeat of the year-and-a-half “nightmare” in the late 1990s, when fierce neighborhood opposition nixed plans to build the new facility outside of downtown.
With the downtown prisoner population edging toward the current jail’s capacity, the county says it may need a new jail by as early as 2011. The $17 million expansion of the jail in 2001 could be seen as cheap in retrospect.
“This is probably one of the biggest expenditures we’re going to make, $50-$60 million possibly,” Barbetta said.
County commissioners delayed approving the contract, saying they also wanted more information on talks with Manatee and DeSoto counties about jointly constructing a new jail. They also called for a public education campaign to prove that a new jail is needed.
“If it’s within shooting distance of Sarasota County, you really do need a public demonstration that a new jail is needed,” said Commissioner Nora Patterson.
By DOUG SWORD