Commissioners want to reopen Bessemer jail without deputies

By Alan Collins

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Jefferson County Commissioners want to reopen the county jail in Bessemer, but not with deputies.

The Bessemer jail has been closed since last year because of money problems. Commissioners want the facility open for inmates.

"We are not in favor of opening just two floors," Bettye Fine Collins Jefferson Co. Commissioner said. "That won't help us that much. Three floors will have to be open."

The county could face a lawsuit if the Bessemer jail is not reopened. The county jail in Birmingham was built to house about a thousand inmates but currently it has more than 1,200.  Commissioners said Sheriff Mike Hale needs to hire correctional officers instead of deputies.

"That would make sense," George Bowman, Jefferson Co. Commissioner said. "That is what most of the other correctional facilities are doing. They are using that to reduce cost. We can definitely do that here."

Collins says no other jail uses deputies. "We are the only jail, county jail in Alabama providing security. Only one. That tells you something," Collins said.

Jefferson Co. Chief Deputy Randy Christian says operating a jail without deputies can be a problem.

"A deputy sheriff carries qualified immunity, but a correctional officer does not," Christian said. "So you are really exposing tax dollars to big lawsuits. If you lose one you could lose millions, millions and millions."

Collins disagrees, saying liability is not a problem with correctional officers.  

"There will have to be an agreement between the commission and sheriff to sign off on," Collins said. "The money will go to the correctional officers of the jail."

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