Oelrich demands change after jail suicide attempts

The sheriff calls for a mesh barrier.

Published: Tuesday, January 4, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 3, 2005 at 11:29 p.m.
Four attempted suicides at the Alachua County jail have Sheriff Steve Oelrich demanding that the county do modifications he said he first requested in the spring.
The attempted suicides occurred in an area for inmates with mental health concerns. The inmates either jumped from the second floor or tied themselves to a second-floor railing and jumped off.
Oelrich said a mesh barrier for the area was first requested April 20 and still has not been installed.
"As you can see, this ongoing situation needlessly exposes the Sheriff's Office and the County Commission to liability, and I would insist (the facilities department) take immediate action," Oelrich wrote in a letter to County Manager Randy Reid.
Reid said Monday that a request for the money was not included in the budget of the Sheriff's Office that was submitted during the summer and approved in the fall.
"This should have come up through the budget process as a project. They outline capital projects. If this was known and necessary prior to Oct. 1, it should have been brought up then," Reid said. "We don't have any problem with doing the project. The issue is, is the money coming out of the additional funding or out of money allocated for the jail."
Both Reid and facilities director Charlie Jackson said the work will be done. The money - estimated by Oelrich at $26,000 - will probably come from other capital projects at the jail, including air conditioning upgrades.
The insistence that the modifications be made is the latest issue in an ongoing feud between Oelrich and the county, much of it stemming from his budget.
Part of the bickering involved a lawsuit that Oelrich filed against the county over the way his budget is funded. An appellate judge recently ruled for the county. Oelrich said he will not pursue the matter further.
Meanwhile, commissioners last year argued that a greater slice of the criminal justice budget should be spent on jail alternative programs.
This year, commissioners are looking to reduce the criminal justice budget and instead use the money on other needs.
The jail modifications Oelrich requested stem from a site inspection done by the National Institute of Corrections following a number of jail situations in recent years including the sexual battery of several inmates by other inmates.
Included was a review of suicide prevention practices. The installation of a barrier in the housing pod for inmates with mental health issues was listed as a need.
Sheriff's Lt. Jim Troiano said the attempted suicides occurred on July 20, Sept. 24, Dec. 1 and Dec. 9. A mesh barrier is needed between the guardrails and the ceilings and along the stairs. The barriers would seal the gap between the rails and the ceiling to prevent people from jumping.
Oelrich operates the jail for the county. Troiano said modification of facilities is the responsibility of the county.
"It's just like any county building. The county operates all of the buildings. We just occupy them," Troiano said. "It has been a point of contention with us that we are asking the county to assist us in remedying a problem that we see as a liability now and in the future. This is the best way of preventing an incident from happening."
Jackson said steps are now being taken to get the work done.
"It is a life safety item. It is an emergency and it is a need of urgency to get it done, but you have to go through the procedures to get the funding source to make it happen," Jackson said. "This item was not submitted through the capital improvement process. That's what muddies the water a little bit."
Cindy Swirko can be reached at 374-5024 or swirkoc@ gvillesun.com.

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