Baker County Press
About two weeks after finalizing an agreement with Immigration and Customs
Enforcement (ICE), the newly constructed sheriff’s complex accepted its first 38
prisoners from the federal agency last week.
Federal officers had transferred
three inmates by September 2 and another 35 arrived in a handful of nondescript
vans the afternoon of September 3, accompanied by a large bus with a US
Department of Homeland Security logo.
Baker Correctional Development
Corporation (BCDC) board members and ICE officials joined Sheriff Joey Dobson
and facility staff for a handoff.
“It’s exciting for us,” said the nonprofit
corporation’s secretary Paul Whitehead. “I’ve been looking forward to this day.
It’s a good thing for the county.”
The BCDC oversees management of the new
jail and repayment of $45 million bonded to fund its construction. The
organization was formed in 2007, but planning for the 512-bed facility began as
early as 2002.
Six years later the bonds were sold and construction began.
The project was completed and the sheriff’s department, emergency management
services, dispatchers and local inmates moved into the complex last June. Since
then it’s housed about 100 local inmates and a small group of prisoners from
other federal law enforcement agencies.
“I’ve been anxious about getting to
this day,” said Sheriff Dobson, who along with other county officials have been
eager to see cells at the complex occupied and federal dollars start to trickle
Since that roughly $84 per day per prisoner is expected to repay the
bonds, the slow churning of ICE’s Washington bureaucracy took its toll in recent
months as local officials fielded numerous inquiries about when, if ever, the
prisoners might be transferred.
Last week Sheriff Dobson asked for assistance
from Senator Bill Nelson’s office in moving the paperwork along. He said
the senator’s office called September 1 to inform him that ICE inmates
would arrive within the week.
“They got it done,” said Sheriff Dobson. “My
blood pressure is probably somewhat down now … This day is historical. It’s what
we built this facility for.”
The sheriff’s department, which has a management
contract with BCDC to run the jail, hired 16 new guards to handle additional
inmates. The staffing plan calls for two more waves of hiring that will
culminate with 60 sworn officers at the complex.
“It’s not a lot of change,
just in the numbers,” said Sheriff Dobson about the impact of housing ICE
inmates. “It changes the complexity of dealing with them on an everyday
More than 350 cells remain empty, and it’s unclear when the new jail
might reach full capacity.
“It’s going to be slowly,” said an ICE supervisor
from Jacksonville who asked not to be identified. “Once you go into this, it’s
like making jambalaya — you add the rice, let it cook, then the beans; you take
In the view of BCDC president Todd Knabb, it’s good the facility
didn’t fill up immediately. “It gives them a chance to get all the kinks worked
out,” he said.
According to a 10-year cash flow forecast for the BCDC, the
jail’s projected income won’t reach $15.6 million annually until 2013. That
figure represents how much revenue would be generated if all 512 beds were
occupied continuously for 365 days.
The forecast also shows that by this time
next year, the BCDC is expected to have $12.4 million coming in with only $10.4
million in operational expenses and debt payments.