TRUSSVILLE — Several East Jefferson County mayors met Tuesday morning to discuss possibilities and concerns about a potential new jail that could house inmates for municipalities in the Birmingham area.
On Monday, Jefferson County Commission president Jimmie Stephens talked to 1819 News about the possibility of the new jail. He said there could be one to three facilities, some located on abandoned industrial sites, which could win tax credits from the federal government.
This would come when several municipalities in the Birmingham area struggle to keep up with their jail facilities.
Nevertheless, Stephens insisted that there is "much work to be done" before the county signs off on such a project.
Jefferson County Sheriff Mark Pettway told local media last weekend that he's received a positive response from Birmingham-area law enforcement about the regional jail and intends to work with the state to stop inmates from becoming repeat offenders. He said cities must sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to begin forging a partnership with his department on the jail endeavor.
Stephens suggested the sheriff may have gotten ahead of himself, reminding the official that he only has the authority to operate the prison, not commission or construct one.
At Tuesday's Eastern Area Mayor's meeting, Jefferson County Commissioner Joe Knight discussed the potential regional facility and encouraged the mayors to share their thoughts.
Knight said the discussion about a regional jail arose after failed negotiations between the City of Birmingham and Jefferson County 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, Knight claimed, was only half as much as county officials felt was appropriate.
In September, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin accused the county of discriminating against Birmingham after he offered the county a rate of $65 per inmate, and Stephens countered with $110.
Trussville Mayor Buddy Choat said Birmingham also approached his municipality to house some of its prisoners as it currently does for Argo and Leeds. Still, Trussville did not agree to a deal.
"The numbers they were asking us, it might not have been good for us," Choat explained.
Choat also said he and several other Jefferson County mayors visited Pettway's office to discuss the potential regional facility with him. He suggested that though no one outright opposed the facility, there were still a lot of questions, and he was unsure if there was a consensus among the Jefferson County Mayor's Association.
"I know there are a lot of municipalities that don't have facilities," he added.
According to Knight, the last estimate predicted the facilities could cost around $250 million, and those who want the regional facility would have to figure out who would assume the funding to build it. They would also have to agree on a location.
Other participants expressed concerns about transporting inmates and personnel.
Law enforcement agencies around the country are having trouble recruiting officers. Knight said when he last heard, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office had over 150 vacancies and only graduated two officers in its last recruiting class, despite the $5 million the commission budgeted for the academy to rebuild barracks.
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