The jail that wasn't: Sheriff Amerson once pitched the idea of a central lockup serving several cities
by Brian Anderson
banderson@annistonstar.com
Feb 04, 2012 | 5464 views |  0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Corrections Officer Cody Davis keeps an eye on inmates Friday at Calhoun County Jail. (Anniston Star photo by Stephen Gross)
Corrections Officer Cody Davis keeps an eye on inmates Friday at Calhoun County Jail. (Anniston Star photo by Stephen Gross)
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With a new building finally under way, Anniston police are anticipating the end of problems that arise from lack of suitable space to do their jobs.

According to one county official, though, there could have been an easier, less expensive fix.

Construction for the new justice center in Anniston began this week and when complete, the building will include a new police department, municipal court, court magistrate’s office, and a new, larger jail.

But according to Calhoun County Sheriff Larry Amerson, the $15 million dollar project could have perhaps been a little cheaper without that last addition.

“The essence is to save taxpayers’ money by eliminating jails in the county,” said Amerson on a proposed idea of one centralized jail for the county — an idea he’s been pushing for years. “Building one jail saves finances and cuts down the headaches of dealing with inmates day to day.”

It’s an idea with little support, but one of its most vocal proponents has been Calhoun County Commissioner Eli Henderson, who said he still thinks there’s hope for the plan despite the new jails being built in Jacksonville and Anniston.

“It would save a lot of money,” Henderson said. “They already got the facilities, the jailers…they already do all of that.”

Amerson said a few years ago he had sent a plan to local municipalities, outlining the benefits of one jail serving the whole county.

“We sent a letter suggesting that they don’t have to have this burden of building a jail,” Amerson said, highlighting that the Sheriff’s Office already had infrastructure in place to take care of larger number of inmates.

It wasn’t greeted with much enthusiasm.

“Oxford built a new jail, Anniston and Jacksonville are building new jails,” Amerson said when asked if the local police agencies supported the idea. “So I guess not.”

It apparently didn’t leave much of an impression at all. When contacted by The Star on Thursday, Oxford police Chief Bill Partridge said he’d never heard of plans for a central jail, and he would have to know the details of a plan to comment.

Anniston Mayor Gene Robinson said city officials met with the sheriff in 2009 to discuss possible plans for a central jail, but the idea died when the price tag proved to be too costly.

“The figure was just short of $1 million, and we said ‘Thank you, but no thank you,’” Robinson said. “The money figure killed off the talks. Period.”

Amerson said he believed it was something other than money that turned off local police agencies from the idea.

“One jail would mean they have less control over people in custody,” Amerson said.

Jacksonville police Chief Tommy Thompson said the lack of control is always an issue among the local agencies who sometimes butt heads when dealing with countywide problems.

“There’s too many personalities involved,” Thompson said on why one jail wouldn’t work for the county. “Too many municipalities to work with.”

Thompson said there were other logistical problems for Jacksonville that stood in the way of supporting one jail.

“It’s not a centralized location,” Thompson said. “It’s just not in the center of the county.”

Thompson said before plans went through for Anniston’s and Jacksonville’s new justice centers, an idea was floated around the two agencies to have a consolidated jail in McClellan — roughly nine miles south of the current Jacksonville police department. But even that location represented too much of a distance for the department.

And as far as revitalizing the project, Thompson said it won’t happen.

“They’re a couple of years too late,” he said. Star staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546
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