The $17.4 million Flagler County jail, with 12 new housing pods, marks its official opening next week–on July 7–with that oddity usually reserved for new businesses, new parks, museums or great public works: a ribbon-cutting. The Flagler County Commission and Sheriff Jim Manfre will host the occasion at 10 a.m. on the grounds of the new facility, across from the old jail and what used to be the sheriff’s operations center. No inmates are expected to take part except as background props.
The event is scheduled almost four years after the county commission, in a controversial 4-1 vote, decided to extend a local sales tax supplement not by going to referendum, but by a super-majority vote of the commission itself. Commissioners feared that the measure would fail if it was placed before voters. (Milissa Holland was the dissenting vote that October, saying at the time that the jail was needed, but that the measure should have gone to referendum. She is now a candidate for mayor of Palm Coast.)
The 20-year extension ensured that money would be available for the jail expansion, along with other major projects that have since included the acquisition and renovation of the old hospital in Bunnell, now the sheriff’s operations center.
The opening, which a county release dubs a “ceremony,” will also feature the trappings of a campaign event: It is scheduled less than eight weeks from the primary, giving incumbents a chance freely to bask in the shadow of a major, completed construction project that tends to resonate with voters more effectively than, say, another government building. But only two candidates expected to be at the jail event–Manfre and Commissioner Charlie Ericksen–face primary opposition.
The old jail had 132 beds, including those in the women’s wing. The new two-story, pie-shaped facility triples capacity by adding 272 beds bringing the total upwards of 400. The old jail has been converted into the women’s wing, creating more autonomy for women inmates. The new facility also includes a roomier booking area. Because of its panopticon-like design, enabling guards to provide broad surveillance from a few vantage points, the need for additional staffing at the jail will be limited, at least as long as the jail is not at capacity.
In recent months, the old jail has been consistently below capacity as local officials have touted the effectiveness of diversionary programs.
“No one wants to spend money to build a jail, but it was necessary,” County Administrator Craig Coffey said in a release. “The facility was too small for the needs of the county and there were inadequate isolation cells and visitation areas among the issues that needed to be addressed. The state would have mandated that we increase the facility if we hadn’t moved forward on our own.”
The new jail accommodates various inmate classifications. Classrooms and training facilities were added, the medical services, kitchen and laundry facilities expanded, and direct visitation was replaced with video visitation facilities. Other improvements include new electronic security and access controls throughout the facility, and full renovation of security and detention doors, hardware and locks.
“We believe this state-of-the-art facility will dramatically improve the safety of our personnel and the inmates that we house,” said Sheriff Jim Manfre.
Voters never got a choice in the matter because four years ago commissioners had been wrangling with Palm Coast over how to split the proceeds from the sales tax revenue, if the tax were renewed. Flagler government wanted to change the formula, bringing it more in line with how such proceeds are split between counties and cities across the state. That would have reduced Palm Coast’s share. The two sides never came to an agreement. Without Palm Coast’s support, the measure would have faced an uncertain fate at the ballot box.
So the commission decided to go the route of a unilateral vote, with the tax revenue proceeds split according to the foruma it favored, rather than the one Palm Coast favored: Palm Coast lost its previous share of the money anyway.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony begins at 10 a.m. July 7 at the Flagler County Inmate Facility, 1002 Justice Lane, Bunnell. Speakers include Flagler County Commission Chairman Barbara Revels, Bunnell Mayor Catherine Robinson and Sheriff Jim Manfre. The county-issued release mentions no names from Palm Coast.
Refreshments will be served and limited tours will be provided. Visitors will undergo security screenings before entering the jail, though those security measures are no more onerous than the metal detector at the courthouse.