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Inmates soon to get new home; Ceremony marks expansion of jail

By Staff | Oct 9, 2008

The paint is still drying on the walls of a new home for at least 600 Lee County inmates.

Building plans remained on a table inside the new $52.79 million, eight-story addition to the Lee County Jail Core Facility on Wednesday.

The cells were empty, the hallways silent — save those taking guided tours of the facility following a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

During the ceremony, local officials spoke not only of the completion of the new building on Ortiz Avenue, but also of how to keep people outside of it.

“All of us in the criminal justice system are working not only to lock up the worst of the worst, but to slow the rate at which people enter into the system,” said State Attorney Stephen Russell. “Public safety … is everyone in government’s first responsibility.”

Russell and other Lee County officials talked about the importance of “prevention and intervention programs,” such as Southwest Florida Addiction Services.

Lee County Commissioner Bob Janes urged a “need to help those who need help.”

Meanwhile, Fort Myers Councilmember Thomas Leonardo said the need to build jails is a societal failure.

“I would rather speak to you in joy when a jail shuts down because crime drops than stand here before you as one opens,” he said. “One dollar spent on a youth today saves us seven dollars to incarcerate that youth later. That’s a national statistic.”

Sheriff Mike Scott boasted of the men and women serving with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.

“This is just a building,” he said. “Like any building, it is nothing until it is managed with the human element 24/7, 365. The biggest gang in Lee County is team green … “

The new building was built by the Kraft Construction Company, with 768 new beds added to the Core Facility.

The building was constructed to aid with housing Lee County’s inmate population, which has risen 17 percent to 24 percent over previous years.

The current Lee County Jail facilities house more than 2,200 inmates on a typical day, but the facilities — including the jail, Core Facility, Stockade and Community Programs Unit — have a cumulative capacity of only 1,635 beds. The current Core Facility has 448 beds.

The new building also has an infirmary that can house 26 inmates and a High Risk Supervision Unit able to hold 30 inmates.

As soon as the project is completed, inmates will be moved to the new facility from the Stockade, which will be demolished as part of the project.

Additional housing will be constructed in place of the old Stockade as a part of future expansion.