Birmingham mayor and Jefferson County commissioner at odds over jail inmate housing cost

Birmingham, Jefferson County negotiate over jail costs
Published: Sep. 18, 2023 at 10:11 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 24, 2023 at 11:57 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin is calling out the Jefferson County Commission President over the cost to house inmates in the county jail. Woodfin posted on social media Monday morning accusing Jimmie Stephens of, “not wanting to negotiate in good faith.”

The mayor says Sherriff Mark Pettway has been negotiating with Birmingham to house city inmates in the county jail for $65 per day, per inmate, but Stephens says that’s only about half of what it costs to actually house them.

Stephens says he wasn’t anticipating the mayor to take to social media about this: “It’s not a Jimmie or a Randall thing. It’s a Jefferson County and City of Birmingham thing.”

He adds that the cost to house inmates isn’t debatable.

“You have funded depreciation,” he explains. “You have jail operation cost. You have inmate medical cost and you have jail maintenance cost. You add all those together and it’s $112 per day per inmate.”

The commission president says he’s not sure where the $65 figure came from, but explains that the county simply can’t afford that.

“The county is just 10 years out of bankruptcy and we cannot afford to supplement the prisoners of the City of Birmingham,” he said. “We have a good facility. We have a good jail. It’s updated. It’s staffed and it’s for Jefferson County inmates. If we start bringing everybody into it, it will not be large enough and your tax dollars will be altered to pay for that.”

City Councilor Darrell O’Quinn says the city has two options.

“We develop an agreement with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office that we can live with or we look at building a new facility and I think the first option is the most cost effective one for us,” said O’Quinn.

The councilor says the Birmingham City Jail is dated and needs a lot of work, which is a big reason they’re negotiating to house inmates at the county jail.

“The council approved an agreement to purchase refrigeration facilities for the kitchen at the jail and I believe the price tag was in excess of $500,000,” said O’Quinn. “Definitely not an inexpensive facility to maintain and operate so what we’re trying to achieve through collaboration with Jefferson County is to reduce that cost.”

Stephens says the city should be responsible for their own criminals and if they’re unable to be, they should pay the rate it costs to house them.

“The City of Birmingham had every opportunity to invest in their jail facility,” he added. “Every fund that’s available to Jefferson County, including federal funds. They have chosen not to update their facility and cast that burden on Jefferson County, Sheriff Mark Pettway, and our jail system and it’s really not fair. Each municipality should stand on its own and house their own criminals.”

It’s not immediately clear where Sheriff Pettway got the $65 number from. WBRC Fox6 reached out to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office about the controversy surrounding the cost but a representative said they have no comment at this time.

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