Sheriff Hale wants to reopen Bessemer jail

By Alan Collins

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale is asking the county to give him enough money to reopen the county jail in Bessemer.

Sheriff Hale met with county commissioners Wednesday afternoon to discuss budget needs for the next fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. Hale told commissioners he would need $17 million more than his current budget to reopen the jail.

Hale has $51 million in his current budget. The sheriff closed the facility after the Jefferson County Commission cut his budget by $10 million last year.

Sheriff Hale told commissioners Wednesday he is worried about a federal lawsuit against the county for overcrowding at the county jail in Birmingham, where approximately 1,300 inmates are currently being held. The facility is designed to hold 1,000 inmates.

"My recommendation is we fully staff the Bessemer Jail We have an overcrowded facility in Birmingham," Hale said. "I think it will cut down on the liability of the county and sheriff's office."

At least one county commissioner said Wednesday she agrees with Hale.

"I do believe we should open the Bessemer Jail,"  Commissioner Shelia Smoot said. "I'm calling for that to happen before we get hit with a federal lawsuit due with jail overcrowding."

But other commissioners said Sheriff Hale must live within his budget.

"Right now we are looking for everyone to maintain from last year," Commissioner Bobby Humphryes said.

Sheriff Hale said to reopen the county jail in Bessemer, he would need to hire 40 deputies.

Meanwhile Jefferson County District Attorneys for Birmingham and Bessemer say they can live with their current budgets.

"We want to have any trouble at all if we get what we had last year," District Attorney Arthur Green said. "We are fine."

"To justify getting a higher budget we would need to bring on more folks," District Attorney Brandon Falls said. "That is an issue we are not looking at this year."

Copyright 2010 WBRC. All rights reserved.