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Lee's jail doesn't fit

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December 7, 2005

Lee County-- As one of the fastest growing counties in the nation, Lee County also has a growing share of lawbreakers. The jail, built just a few years ago and designed to hold 74 inmates, is averaging 91 per night.

Chief Deputy Dennis Parker said, "We are having to use our Detox room and our medical room to house some of the inmates. That's not what it's designed for, it's supposed to be for just temporary holding."

In Dayroom B, more inmates than beds. Parker said, "We have anybody on the floor in here.We have one on the floor in here. So we have 13 people in a 12 man area right now. We try to keep them off the floor as much as we can. It's not really acceptable to do that."

And current population trends say that number of average daily prisoners will increase by at least 15 every year. Parker said, "It's a safety issue. And it does put officers at risk."

And it's costing big money. Right now Lee County is paying to house nine inmates in other county jails or facilities, because of the overcrowding. At $45 per prisoner per day, that adds up quickly. "Some months can reach up to $30,000 a month for housing outside of county," Parker said.

This is a list of the more that 1,500 arrest warrants on log now in Lee County, waiting to be served. "Once we start arresting these people, we have to put them somewhere."

Lee County taxpayers have been rocked by a 14% property tax increase this year. So Sheriff's Office officials know taxpayers will not be thrilled to pay between $2.5 million to $4 million dollars for a jail expansion. But it must be done, and in the long run could cost the county less money.

Parker said, "If we had enough space, we could not only provide for needs without having to pay other counties housing costs, but we could also rent out space."

Sheriff Harold Breeden wants to expand the jail to house 300 prisoners.

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