The Duval County jail. | Andrew Pantazi, The TributaryThe Duval County jail. | Andrew Pantazi, The Tributary
The Duval County jail. | Andrew Pantazi, The Tributary

Duval jail report calls for new public safety campus

Published on May 13, 2024 at 3:27 pm
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A special committee that met over seven months to discuss the future of the Duval County jail has released a draft of its final report on the facilities, describing the challenges the jail faces with significant overcrowding and desperately needed repairs that will cost over $6 million. 

The report suggests replacing the current jail with a new campus-style facility that has its own in-house infirmary and separate buildings for different types of inmates. An infirmary could dramatically lower health care costs, the report says. The city spent about $20 million in the 2022-2023 fiscal year on transporting and treating inmates at UF Health. 

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A possible location for the new jail hasn’t been identified yet, but the committee recommends building it near Downtown, in an area with ample space for expansion. 

The report came from a special committee appointed by City Council President Ron Salem last June. Besides Sheriff’s Office and jail officials, the special committee met with judges, prosecutors and court officials and sought the advice of public and private entities that specialize in the construction of public safety facilities.

Committee members also consulted with other communities that have recently built or renovated law enforcement buildings and visited facilities in Nashville, Orlando, Los Angeles and Dallas.

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The report says the Police Memorial Building, headquarters for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, lacks enough space for the growing staff. The agency says it needs at least 281,000 square feet, 70% more than the current building provides. The 45-year-old building also requires $360,000 a year to maintain, with cracking floors, plumbing leaks, water damage and dilapidated restrooms, the report says. Recruiting and retaining staff in the deteriorating building is difficult, it says.

Meanwhile, the 33-year-old jail, designed for 2,189 inmates, now holds about 2,600. “This overcapacity limits access to vital resources and services for inmates, imposes significant stress on staff, and inhibits overall efficiency,” the report says.

In addition to overcrowding and staffing shortages, more than $12 million has been spent in the past five years on maintenance projects at the jail, the report says. And problems like mold, plumbing leaks, and electrical and HVAC issues remain.

The report says all of the committee’s documents, presentations and notes are available here.

The committee suggests establishing a “Blue-Ribbon Committee” to seek proposals for the new
facility. The committee would comprise representatives from the Mayor’s Office, City Council, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, the city’s Engineering Department and other stakeholders including Gateway Community Services, the Sulzbacher Center, the Northeast Florida Builders Association, the Duval school district, and NaphCare.

The report notes that views on incarceration have changed since the jail was built, and the committee recommends turning the jail into an “outcome-driven” facility, putting in a greater effort to prepare inmates for reentry into society, with a focus on rehabilitation, education and treatment programs from inmates dealing with mental illness or substance abuse. The goal with this shift is to ultimately reduce the recidivism rate and reduce the burden on taxpayers.

The cost of building a new jail has been estimated at over $1 billion. It’s not something that can happen overnight either — we are at least five years away from seeing a new jail completed.

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author image Newsletter Writer Heather Henderson is a writer, editor and artist. Originally hailing from South Florida, she has lived in Jax for close to 20 years. Previously a staff writer at Void, she also worked as a global trade researcher and wrote about trade policy for American Shipper. Most recently, she served as assistant editor for the National Culinary Review and We Are Chefs. In her free time she loves to paint, watch bad reality shows and read. She has a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of North Florida.
author image Newsletter Writer Heather Henderson is a writer, editor and artist. Originally hailing from South Florida, she has lived in Jax for close to 20 years. Previously a staff writer at Void, she also worked as a global trade researcher and wrote about trade policy for American Shipper. Most recently, she served as assistant editor for the National Culinary Review and We Are Chefs. In her free time she loves to paint, watch bad reality shows and read. She has a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of North Florida.

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