Florala jail project halted, for now

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A jail feasibility study being conducted by the city of Florala has been halted, at least temporarily.

The feasibility study, which has been underway for several months as a way to determine whether or not reopening the city jail would be a cheaper alternative to the county jail, was tabled by the Florala City Council Monday for a period of at least 90 days at the recommendation of police chief Sonny Bedsole.

“We have a bonding company that has bought a license to operate in Florala,” Bedsole told council members. “If it is not a mandatory incarceration, they are bonding people out right here in town.”

That, Bedsole said, may be a more reasonable alternative to reopening the jail that he himself reported would likely cost the city money at first.

“I’m trying to look at the big picture, and in the long run, it may end up saving us money,” Bedsole told the council in February, after coming up with estimates for what the new jail would cost or save the city.

“It is approximately 54 miles to the Andalusia jail and back,” Bedsole said in February. “That adds up to about $31 a trip. Let’s say we average 20 trips a month. That adds up to around $7,500 a year.”

In March, councilwoman Ann Eason told the council the initial quote from the engineering and architectural side of the project sat at $17,800, with the next step in the process being obtaining bids on bringing the structure back into compliance with current building codes. Eason said the engineering quote needed to be finalized before the city could move on into the bidding process for work to bring the jail up to code, adding that the state fire marshal and health department would also have assess the structure in order to determine what work would have to be done.

Mayor Robert Williamson said then that he expected the assessments to be completed by April; however, Bedsole said Monday that the new bond system should be given more time to be tested before more steps are taken in the process to reopen the jail.

“Covington Bail Bonds bought a license for the city,” Bedsole said following the meeting. “It’s different than when we just had a bunch of companies coming in and saying, ‘It’s my turn,’ but not having a license.”

Bedsole also reported a decrease in expenses associated with transporting to and housing suspects in the county jail in Andalusia during the month of March, despite an uptick in arrests during the spring break season.

“I believe it was down to around $900, which is a drop off,” he said. “We had a 140 cases in March, mostly because of spring break.”

Bedsole said the bond system is also a way for Florala officers to have more discretion over who is and is not incarcerated.

“If it’s not a mandatory incarceration, we don’t have to send them to jail,” he said. “Some of these are kids. We’re not trying to ruin their lives. Sometimes they make mistakes. We’re just not going to let them do it again and again.”