Jefferson County Commission president Jimmie Stephens told 1819 News on Friday that the commission is "completely against" the Birmingham Police Department (BPD) housing those they arrest on misdemeanor charges in the county jail.
Last week, Jefferson County Sheriff Mark Pettway said that Birmingham officials sought approval to begin using the Jefferson County 10th Judicial Court system for their misdemeanor arrests, which means that country court magistrates will award arrest warrants. County judges will hear cases previously awarded and heard by municipal courts. That way, the City of Birmingham can house those arrested on misdemeanor charges in the county's jail facility instead of the deteriorating city jail facility.
City of Birmingham director of communications Rick Journey also released a statement on the agreement.
In October, Stephens talked to 1819 News about a potential new jail that could house inmates for municipalities in the Birmingham area. Nevertheless, Stephens insisted that there is "much work to be done" before the county signs off on such a project and criticized Pettway for getting ahead of himself on the project by speaking about it to the local press about a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to begin forging a partnership with his department on the jail endeavor.
This followed failed negotiations between Jefferson County and the City of Birmingham over housing inmates currently at the city's jail, which is in poor shape. The price Birmingham offered Jefferson County to house inmates in one of the county jails was only half as much as county officials felt was appropriate.
Several east Jefferson County mayors met later that month to discuss possibilities and concerns about the potential facility.
On Friday, Stephens criticized Pettway again, insisting that the sheriff told him he was not in favor of housing city inmates in the country jail and would take steps to keep that from happening. Stephens said Pettway issued last week's statement about the jail days later.
He also criticized Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin for attempting to "circumvent the municipal ordinances and their municipal justice system instead of using county magistrates and the county system." He promised the county attorney is looking into the legality of the move.
"I have had two city councilors contact me and say that they did not know anything about this," Stephens said. "I can't speak for the mayor, but it appears to be a unilateral move by him."
Stephens argued that housing city misdemeanor arrests would be bad for the county because the county jail is already near capacity and could create a precedent for other cities to unload their prisoners on the county.
Additionally, the move by the City, Stephens said, will impede regional cooperation in the future.
"We stand to help any municipality who is in need in a real crisis situation," he explained. "The sheriff deemed this a crisis, and with full knowledge that he had been working on this for almost a year … I feel that the county has a super-majority that would be against this."
"It seriously hampers our ability to do other business with the city of Birmingham, and it will bleed over into our regional economic development projects within the city of Birmingham, so we need to work together, and the mayor and the City of Birmingham need to shoulder their responsibility to maintain their assets," Stephens concluded.
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