Santa Rosa County opened its current jail in 1997 with a life expectancy of 15-20 years.

Today, after surviving a hurricane and paying off a 128-bed addition, it is still going strong with five to 10 more years left.

"I feel very comfortable in saying we have five to 10 years left in the jail now," said Santa Rosa County Sheriff Wendell Hall. "We took care of some major issues here at the jail when we added the 128 beds two to three years ago, which is now paid off.

"The only thing I see that could effect us would be if the state requires us to hold inmates for two years instead of the one year minimum we hold them now."

Currently county jails house prisoners for a maximum of one year after being found guilty of a misdemeanor, but Hall indicated there has been some talk in the state legislature to raise it to two years.

"If they do that it will put a huge burden on the county, while taking a huge burden off the state," Hall said. "We hope it doesn't happen, we couldn't afford it."

Currently the Santa Rosa County Jail is operating on just under $11 million a year.

"We try to make things work balancing out classified supervision while doing as much with civilians and control room operators as possible," Hall said. "We try to keep the classified deputies as the ones who have direct contact with the inmates, while the civilians handle pushing the buttons and watching monitors in the control room."

While the jail is used to house those who have broken the law locally or run afoul of the probation system, it is pretty much a city itself except the population does fluctuate.

Three times a day meals are prepared for the inmates and delivered on trays, while the jail also has its own medical facility and mail room which can handle as many as 2,500 - 3,000 pieces of mail each week.

"Right now we have around 550 people in here on a daily basis, but as the weather get colder we will get back up to around 600 or so inmates a day," said Lt. Jimmy Cotton, one of the jail supervisors. "I don't know if we will ever be maxed out because of the classification system we have at the jail."

Maximum for the jail would be roughly 625 a day according to Hall, which includes having 75-80 inmates a day.

"We are paid $58 per day to house federal prisoners and they pay for the outside medical care," Hall said. "We have been fortunate to
have a good working relationship with the Federal Bureau of Prisons and its facilities in the area.

"But overall around 600 inmates a day is a good manageable number. It is hard to say if we will ever reach our maximum because we have different classification spots that would all have to be filled and that would have to be a perfect day.

Back in 2009 the jail averaged 438 inmates a day and that number has steadily grown to where it is averaging over 530 a day in 2012.

"As the local population grows it will impact us," Hall said. "Our population in Santa Rosa County has grown by 40 percent in the last 10 years and not all of them follow the law.

"Another thing that has helped us is an effort by State Attorney Bill Eddins to allow those arrested to plea out if they wish."
In the past judges would not allow those arrested to enter pleads early in the process, but now with the state having attorneys present
the process has sped up.

"If someone pleads guilty and they are sentenced to a year and a day we look to turn them over to the state as soon as possible," Hall said.

One problem the jail is facing is the number violating the terms of their state probation.

Hall indicated in many cases they will spend 30 to 45 days before their first appearance, which can add up to 30 to 35 percent of the jail population as given times.

"We are trying to be very prudent with the dollars we have available," Hall said. "We have systems in place that help us, like our GPS System and other efforts to keep the jail functioning as well as possible.

"The thing is we do not know what the population will do in the future and we do not know what the state legislature is planning for our future."

Average Jail Population by Year
(numbers provided by the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office)

2009 - 438.1
2010 - 420.7
2011 - 496.7
2012 - 530.8 (JAN - SEP)