INVERNESS - To combat crowding at the Citrus County jail, the Corrections Corporation of America says the facility needs to be renovated and expanded.
The County Commission approved a renewal of its contract with the private company Tuesday afternoon, clearing the way for the $18.5-million project.
The expansion will nearly double the jail's capacity, a move that county and CCA officials say is necessary to deal with a growing number of inmates.
"These numbers jumped up pretty quickly," said Commissioner Jim Fowler.
"(Incarceration) is a growth industry," he said. "We'd rather see them in jail than on the street."
Commissioners listened Tuesday afternoon as County Administrator Richard Wesch, Public Safety Director Charles Poliseno and CCA officials described the planned addition, which will add 398 beds to the 360 beds at the jail as well as a courtroom to help the county manage an increased number of criminal cases on the weekly dockets. The jail's kitchen, laundry room and medical facility will be renovated.
The company hopes to begin construction by December. The work is expected to take up to 15 months.
CCA will foot the bill for the expansion and renovation, not taxpayers, commissioners said.
Under its contract with the county, the company is in charge of such projects. The county provides some utility and safety services, such as fire sprinklers, to the jail.
The issue of jail expansion came up during contract negotiations with CCA, a private contractor hired to run the county jail, Wesch said. The Nashville company, which has operated the Citrus County jail since 1995, runs corrections facilities in 19 states and Washington, D.C., according to its Web site. Its current contract with the county ends Oct. 1. The county staff negotiated with the company on the terms of the 10-year contract renewal.
The county is pleased with the work of the private contractor and planned to continue to allow CCA to run the jail, Wesch said.
Commissioners also touched on the increased daily cost of housing inmates, which has gone from $52.64 to $54.74 per inmate.
The company will continue its practice of leasing out unoccupied beds at the jail to the U.S. Marshals Service, Wesch said.
But, as Commissioner Joyce Valentino pointed out, "Inmates from Citrus County will be the priority."
Two residents spoke at the meeting, including Morris Harvey, fiscal watch chairman of the Citrus County Council. Harvey asked why the expansion wasn't projected in the Capital Improvement Plan.
Commissioners told Harvey the jail expansion wasn't in the plan because it's difficult to predict when expansion will be needed.
Another man suggested the county house the inmates in tents at the jail, rather than building onto the current facility.