New Escambia Facility: 'The Future of Corrections'
Almost seven years after the 2014 explosion that destroyed the Escambia Central Booking and Detention facility, the county’s new Correctional Facility project is nearing completion.
During a recent tour, WUWF got a look at some of the design features are aimed at improving the experience for inmates housed there and the officers - who work there.
“We would like to welcome you to the expansion of our correctional facility,” said Facilities Management Director Cassie Boatwright, beginning a short open house of sorts for members of the media.
“This new expansion is 303,000 square-feet and includes housing units and support functions for the correctional operations.”
Boatwright has been overseeing construction of the new $142 million facility, built on 14 acres of commercial property and vacant land adjacent to the existing County Correctional facility.
“The building is expected to receive LEAD Silver, which means it has various different energy efficiency upgrades, including lighting controls, plumbing controls, and various different mechanical upgrades. The mechanical system not only supports this new addition, but also supports various functions within the existing facility.”
“We’re very excited to move forward in corrections. With this development, it is the future of corrections,” proclaimed Lt. Jason Walker, who did most of the heavy lifting in describing the new facility.
He says great care was taken to create a building that is visually appealing, beginning with what the public will see driving up its Pace Boulevard entrance.
“It looks (like) more of an office complex, and it was our job to try that for this area. We want to have businesses around here; they won’t see this as a correctional facility, with barbed-wire and all these other things. We have decorative fencing and it’s very aesthetically pleasing for the area.”
There was also an effort to keep that vibe going inside the new facility, which is much different from the adjacent existing facility built in 1982.
“They have a lot of bars. We have no bars here. You won’t see any bars inside the facility. We have solid doors and a lot of (glass) a lot or see through material. And, it’s quite large and it’s bright,” said Walker, pointing to the bright, energy efficient lights and light paint colors throughout the facility. “The color choice that we’ve used here is to take away from the stigma of being in jail.”
The new facility has been constructed with an eye toward expansion to deal with future overcrowding. Currently, it has a capacity of 840 beds spread throughout 15 spacious housing units.
“The area that we’re standing in is very large and it has open seating,” said Walker, giving a general description of the day room at the center of one of the housing units. These areas are outfitted with multiple televisions and have been designed in such a way that they can accommodate just about all of an inmate’s needs.
“They also have (recreation) yards attached to each housing unit, so the inmates have the opportunity to go outside and get fresh air, get some exercise,” he said.
“We also have different programs that are brought to the inmate so that we have a program room here, a multi-purpose room, for religious services, mental health services, medical services, and various classes offered to them.”
Additionally, housing units feature dorm quads flanked by smaller day rooms that have phones and video visitation stations. This design allows for easier segregation or isolation of inmates, in the event of a coronavirus outbreak or some other situation.
Further, there are housing units for different classifications of inmates. For example, juveniles have their own self-contained housing area.
But, Lt. Walker believes one of the best aspects of the new design is the stationing of a corrections officer inside each housing unit.
“With this type of facility, we have the officer in direct contact with the inmate, so it gives the inmate an opportunity to create a relationship, a professional relationship with the staff,” Walker said, adding that the readily available staff enhances safety and security for inmates.
“So they have immediate help and immediate response, if they have anything from medical emergency, because we are first responders, to mental health or any other attention that they may need. The staff is right there for them.”
When more serious medical or mental health situations arise, inmates can be sent to the facility’s infirmary, which was another area the media was allowed to visit.
Speaking from the officer’s station of the infirmary, Walker describes a large medical unit that includes more spacious rooms and state of the art equipment.
“Everything we have that we got for this area is new, all the medical equipment,” he said. “We’ll have medical beds here and all the medical items they need to treat patients here. So, hopefully, we don’t have to send them out to the hospitals as much and that will help with the cost of incarcerating inmates.”
The opening of the new facility will also cut the cost of about $4 million a year Escambia County has been paying for bed space at the Walton County Jail since the 2014 explosion said Corrections Commander Scott Nash.
“Well, not only that, but the safety of transporting every day back and forth to Walton County for the officers and inmates,” Nash explained. “We have lowered the amount of inmates we have over at Walton today, so the transition will be a lot easier when we do eventually bring them back and they will be one of the first ones that we transition into the new facility as soon as we open.”
About 90 inmates remain in Walton County. They are scheduled for transfer to the Escambia facility in April.
In addition to providing more space and upgrades for inmates, the new correctional facility will handle all inmate booking, and it includes a kitchen and laundry that serves both facilities, new and existing.
It also features its own large court room, as well as a new staff gym and training areas. Nash says Escambia’s new, modern facility is a valuable tool for recruiting new correctional staff to work in it.
“It’s very helpful; just from riding outside and looking at it compared to other facilities, other institutions throughout the state of Florida,” he said. “We’re in a very competitive field of corrections now, with lots of vacancies throughout the state. We have upped our recruiting process and it seems to be doing well.”
Currently, the county has about 50 openings at the new facility, including corrections officers and trainees and medical personnel. To learn more about the job opportunities and to see details and renderings about the new correctional facility, visit www.myescambia.com.