The Okaloosa County Board of Commissioners approved a proposal on Tuesday to create a jail site investigation and fact-finding team that will assist the county in selecting a location for a new correctional facility.
- The team was formed after the board previously considered a potential jail site on December 5th that ultimately did not move forward due to unfavorable feedback.
According to Deputy County Administrator Craig Coffey, although any site may appear unfavorable to some due to the stigma associated with these facilities, it is understood that the desire of the Board would be to put more thought into a potential site and minimize objections against a site while avoiding significant cost burdens to the taxpayers or a slow down of the process for a new County correctional facility.
Coffey noted that since the last meeting, many quality sites and ideas have already been presented that could help expedite the process of finding a suitable location.
The newly approved site investigation team will be chaired by Commissioner Paul Mixon and consist of the county jail director, a representative from the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, the public works director, a representative from the county’s water and sewer department, a representative from the courts, and any other members appointed by Mixon and the sheriff.
“The team is only delegated with the function of information gathering and fact-finding authority to assist the Deputy County Administrator and shall not exercise any decision-making function or recommendations,” according to county documents. “The Deputy County Administrator, who is not part of the team, will consider the factual findings and information gathering of the team but will be solely responsible for making recommendations to the Board.”
The team has been given a specific set of criteria to follow when evaluating potential sites, including:
- Minimum of 40 acres of upland with relatively gentle slopes, preferably 60+ acres
- Access to public water and sewer sufficient to support a large correctional facility
- Nearby access to major road networks and truck routes
- Location within 5 miles of Crestview courts and transportation networks
- Reasonably priced property
- Compatibility with surrounding area and buffer space
- No major limiting factors like flood plains, wetlands, or contamination
Coffey explained to commissioners that the utility and infrastructure demands of a modern jail facility are extensive.
“With the jail, it’s almost like a 500 unit subdivision. When we have them 24 hours a day, you have those needs 24/7,” he said. “Every jail site throughout the panhandle that we visited, and we visited all the ones to the west and one to the east, they have it on larger sites.”
Having adequate acreage would also allow space for inmate training programs, farming, and other activities to support jail operations, Coffey added.
In contrast, the current aging county jail is situated on a site with flooding and sinkhole issues.
- “Our current facility, we’re in a swamp. Our buildings are sinking. I’m sure the land was very cheap but they didn’t think through all the different details of trying to fast forward many years from now and some of the issues we’re facing today,” said Coffey. “The goal would be to find a site that doesn’t require a ton of fill or a ton of wetland mitigation and anything like that.”
Any proposed site will still need to be presented to the county commission at a future date for final consideration and approval. In the meantime, the county will also begin soliciting proposals for design services so that master planning and design work can commence immediately once a site is selected.
Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel motioned to approve the proposal for the new correctional facility site selection team, which was seconded by Commissioner Nathan Boyles and passed unanimously.
The county hopes to identify and recommend viable jail sites to commissioners within two to three months based on feedback and factual findings gathered by the investigation team.