Where is the next jail likely to be built? North Venice, Nokomis and North Port are all potential locations.
Ten years ago residents of Nokomis fought a major battle and persuaded the Sarasota County Commission not to build a jail adjoining the Solid Waste Landfill site on Knights Trail north of Laurel Road and east of the interstate.
The proposal in 1997 was to build a correctional facility designed to handle misdemeanor offenders as a result of the rise in number of prisoners being held in the jail in downtown Sarasota. It was to be funded from the county's 1-cent sales surtax revenue. The decision was made to enlarge the existing jail instead.
At that time, most of the area consisted of small ranches and fields. Since then, the Venetian Golf & River Club and other major residential projects have been constructed, and there are plans for an additional 5,000 homes within a short distance of the landfill.
Now the enlarged jail is filled to capacity with people awaiting trial or serving sentences.
A Criminal Justice Committee has been set up and will operate under the auspices of the existing Criminal Justice Planning Committee.
Chief Twelfth Circuit Court Judge Lee Haworth heads both committees. He has accepted an invitation to outline issues associated with the proposed new county jail, including possible locations and related facilities, at the Nokomis Area Civic Association quarterly meeting at the Nokomis Community Center, Nippino Trail, at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 23.
NACA President John Ask sits on the jail committee and has arranged the presentation.
"Nimbyism (not in my back yard) is a tremendous problem and can lead to irrational and emotional responses which are not good for future planning," said Ask. "The current jail situation is unsatisfactory and creates the need for a new jail or detention center. If we don't become proactive on this issue, an incident could arise due to overcrowding and the feds could take the decision away from the local scene, implementing their own project."
Knowing the new jail is going to be in mid or South County, those involved in decision making want to bring the community along with the project to avoid fear-mongering, according to Ask.
"Will the next jail be a maximum security location with razor-wire fences? Do we need two of the same size? Is there a greater need for a rehabilitation center for clinical, substance and alcohol related abuse as an alternative?" said Ask.
Cost is a major factor. Configuration of the jail also presents challenges, as it is illegal to mix females, males and juveniles. If one man occupies a cell in a six-cell unit, the other five must be used for men or remain empty.
Personnel cost based upon the makeup of the prison census is another expense factor.
"There is a long way to go and we are looking for community input at this stage," said Ask.
Osprey and North Port, then North Venice, Nokomis and Venice, are the fastest-growing communities in the area. The Criminal Justice Committee is gathering statistics on police activity.
Local geography is an issue, as there is a need for a good traffic grid system to a new jail campus. Currently the road system in North Venice is thought to have a lot of problems.
NACA wants to educate the community. Ask believes his task is to make people aware of the impact of a new jail, as they will pay for it through the taxes.
"The need is to be wise and not emotional, making decisions on facts, because ultimately it will impact the next generation," said Ask.
The NACA forum is open to the public.
by Roger Button Venice Gondolier