Negotiations between the City of Birmingham and Jefferson County over who will take in jail inmates with misdemeanor charges have been a source of tension between the two government entities.
On Monday, the Birmingham Times, Birmingham’s newspaper of record, reported a “tense phone call” from April between Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin and Jefferson County Commission President Jimmie Stephens. Woodfin accused the county of discriminating against Birmingham.
For almost a year, Birmingham has been trying to move its inmates out of the city jail and into a Jefferson County jail also located in Birmingham, citing the poor condition of the facility as a reason a move is necessary.
Jefferson County already houses the city’s inmates charged with felonies, leaving only those charged with misdemeanors in the city jail.
Unidentified sources told the Birmingham Times that Woodfin grew “irate” after he offered the county $65 per Birmingham inmate per day taken into the Jefferson County jail and Stephens counteroffered $110. The report claimed that Woodfin called the proposal “bullshit” and accused the county of being unfair and “discriminatory.”
It also claimed the county already takes inmates from Tarrant at a rate of $65 per inmate per day.
Stephens told 1819 News he did not know the Tarrant deal. Instead, he said $110 is what the county needs to cover the cost of the new inmates at a jail that’s already near capacity.
“When you capitalize the jail like you do any asset, you capitalize the jail replacement, you capitalize the operation cost, the medical cost,” Stephens said. “…It comes up to $108 a day per inmate. Right now, we have 894 [inmates], and the jail capacity is 1050.”
Stephens said Jefferson County Sheriff Mark Pettway, a Democrat who won reelection last year, may have agreed with Woodfin on his own to house inmates from the Birmingham jail. However, according to Stephens, Pettway would not be able to do that without permission from the County Commission.
Stephens recited a portion of a letter he wrote Pettway on Thursday evening:
“The commission would not support, fund or condone placing municipal prisoners into Jefferson County Jail. The request that you intake, house, feed and provide medical for municipal prisoners in unacceptable. Sheriff, you are funded to house county inmates. Personnel is short, and your budget is allocated only for county inmates. In the absence of an agreement, if there is not one, you are obligated to intake municipal prisoners.”
Stephens warned that taking in more Birmingham inmates without careful consideration could result in overcrowding, a situation Jefferson County was in a decade ago when the county’s jail in Bessemer shut down. The county now has a jail in Bessemer again.
“I have no intentions of going back to that,” Stephens said.
The Birmingham Times’ sources accused Stepehens of denying Woodfin the opportunity to speak in front of the Jefferson County Commission. Stephens told the newspaper that the county lacks provisions allowing public speakers but that he would still be open to meeting with the mayor in person.
1819 News reached out to Woodfin’s office to get the mayor’s perspective on the conflict but did not receive a response.
“It is unfair to Jefferson County taxpayers to shoulder the responsibilities of the City of Birmingham. I do not wish to negotiate this issue in the public domain,” said Stephens. “But, this would strain our facilities, our deputies and our prosecutors. We handle and house Birmingham’s violent offenders, and now they want to give us their misdemeanors, too.”
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