WCSO ends inmate agreement with Escambia County

WALTON COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - One particular partnership between two Panhandle counties is coming to an end after Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson wrote a letter to the Escambia County Board of Commissioners informing them he'll no longer house their overflowing inmates.

"Ultimately Escambia County has to deal with serious overcrowding issues and the board of commissioners is addressing that through building a new jail over there and they understand that from our standpoint," said Sheriff Adkinson.

Since 2014, the Walton County Jail has been providing space for hundreds of Escambia County inmates after a gas explosion damaged part of its central booking and detention center.

"We've worked very closely with Escambia County during that time to house approximately 300 inmates," said Sheriff Adkinson.

But as of Wednesday, that partnership will end.

"I think there were some concerns on our part in way of some interactions we've had dealing primarily with policies and procedures. How inmates were handled and transported and, you know from my standpoint this is a partnership. And in a partnership both partners have to be equal," Adkinson voiced. "A lot of the ways prisoners are moved puts a burden on Walton County and we feel that we have provided a very cost effective service."

Sheriff Adkinson said failure to communicate led them to this point, and he believes unless something significantly changes, it can't be fixed.

"My issue was, I don't believe it was accurately portrayed the level of service and saving they were receiving. So in other words, something that should have been a benefit to Escambia County was portrayed in a manner that maybe it was a costing issue. And let's be frank. That can get to be a little bit of a political issue," Adkinson pointed out.

According to Sheriff Adkinson, Escambia County was paying Walton County $5-million a year to house its inmates.

"Our concern was with the representation of the how Walton County was perceived from a standpoint of bill process and that it was more perceived that we were taking advantage when the reality of it is. I think the converse is true. We were able to do this and help Escambia County. Help them save money," Adkinson said.

"So we've spent a majority of that money on preparing and making a safe environment for both inmates and staff, providing programs and to keep our facility top notch. that's a benefit to Escambia County too because that means the inmates are safe, they have this opportunity to learn and learn possibly job skills. so there is a return on investment," he continued.

He also said while that's a large sum money, he believes they're still saving nearly $1.5-million at the end of the day.

"The average daily rate of population cost is about $70 a day in Escambia County. However, they are only paying $48 a day in Walton County. That's roughly 22 some-odd dollars savings per day, per inmate," Adkinson broke down.

Walton County's Sheriff spoke with Escambia County Commissioner Jack Brown and Escambia County Chairman Doug Underhill early Thursday to further discuss how to best approach the situation.

"They understand our concerns and I think that was really part of a good conversation [Thursday]. And at the end of the day, we aren't opening doors and throwing people out. We are professionals and know how to work with people and that will continue from that standpoint," he continued.

A statement released by the Escambia County Commissioners in part reads: "It is our hope that with continued open dialogue over the next few days and weeks, we can address his concerns and reaffirm our commitment to work together. We greatly appreciate the entire Walton County Sheriff's Office for their professionalism and hope our partnership can continue. Escambia County continues to be committed to fiscal, safe solutions to inmate housing until our new jail facility is online."

Sheriff Adkinson said this separation is not a revenue issue from Walton County's standpoint, but an issue of how to conduct business.

"What I would be concerned about if I was an Escambia County citizen is yes there is a cost for housing inmates, but understand this. There is a cost for not doing something right the first time. And Escambia County has, unfortunately, had to pay that cost with the explosion of their jail," Askinson said.

"Nobody likes to spend money on jails. Jails are expensive things and they are very difficult to run and operate. But you have a moral, ethical and legal obligation to do that. So this is something that has to be done," he said.

The letter to Escambia County Commissioners requests the inmates be transferred back to Escambia County no later than June 30th.

To read the Sheriff's letter to the Escambia County Board of Commissioners, click the link under related articles.