Alachua sheriff notes issues with new jail phone system

Alachua County Jail
Alachua County Jail
Photo courtesy ASO

The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office returned to the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) after two months of trying a new phone call system within the jail. Currently, neither the sheriff’s office nor the county commissioners are pleased with the results.  

Sheriff Emery Gainey said he doesn’t care whether calls are free or not. The implementation is what matters as the county jail faces “below critical” staffing levels. Starting in October, the jail began giving three free, 15-minute phone calls per day per inmate.  

Gainey said it was a math problem with the number of inmates, phones and hours available as the components.  

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The BOCC began moving away from paid phone calls in April, directing former Sheriff Clovis Watson Jr. to move to free calls. Gainey, who took over in October, said the three, 15-minute calls formed the first plan to implement the county’s direction. He said the sheriff’s office would work to improve the system in the next two months before returning with another update and perhaps some recommendations.  

In his presentation on Tuesday, Gainey highlighted a rise in inmates using the phones incorrectly. The problem centered on stealing and bartering for other inmate’s PINs used to access the calls and inmates controlling access to the phones.  

Emery Gainey
Courtesy of Marion County Sheriff's Office Emery Gainey

From January through the end of September, Gainey said the jail found 4,181 instances of inmates using another person’s PIN—equal to 15.3 instances per day. From October through Dec. 8, Gainey said the number was 6,417 instances—equal to 93 instances per day. 

He also noted a rise in fights that started over phone related issues.  

While for some, he said the free calls relieve money issues. But for inmates who had the ability to pay for calls, the new system with a 45-minute cap is more restrictive.  

However, Commissioner Ken Cornell said the sheriff’s office failed to follow the BOCC’s direction at all since it didn’t implement unlimited, free phone calls. He said by limiting the number of calls to three per inmate, the sheriff’s office had created scarcity and then a commodity to be bartered and controlled.  

“I’m not convinced that the model that we directed has been tried,” Cornell said.  

Commissioner Anna Prizzia said the scarcity doesn’t seem to be the number of calls but the number of phones.  
Currently, the jail has eight phones for 70-80 inmates in open bay housing and two phones for around 32 inmates in maximum custody housing.  

Gainey agreed, but due to state statutes regulating the amount of floor space, Gainey said the jail can’t add more phones to the housing units. They’d need a separate phone room which would require more personnel to monitor and transport inmates to and from. 

The sheriff’s office has been dealing with low staffing at the jail. Watson noted the same concerns, from staffing to number of phones, in April.  

The problem goes beyond just stealing PINs. Gainey said inmates can use the stolen PINs to then contact persons they’re not supposed to contact—ranging from victims to other inmates in another cell using three-way calls.  

Gainey said if things continue as they have, he will return with another recommendation. He said the sheriff’s staff still needed time to figure out the best solution. Tuesday’s item was just an update.  

Still, the BOCC said to switch to the original direction—unlimited, free phone calls with a time limit that the sheriff’s office thinks best.  

Cornell said each inmate can speak until their turn time is up before returning to the end of the line and calling again when they reach the front with no worries about a three-call cap, eliminating the need to steal PINs.   

Gainey said he wished it would work that well and said he thought the same problems would persist, including certain jail populations controlling the phone lines.  

Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler agreed with Gainey. She told Cornell she thought the same problems would continue.  

But, the BOCC voted unanimously on the motion for Gainey to try the unlimited, free calls with a certain time limit per call. The motion also asked for information about how many phones were broken and repaired on a monthly basis and for the sheriff to look into having phone rooms.  

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What some of the commissioners fail to understand is that a percentage of inmates will not allow others to use the phones. There are days when there’s not enough deputies to staff the housing units let alone escort them back and forth from a non-existent phone room.

Last edited 7 months ago by Nunya
Told you so

The issue is that there aren’t enough phones and they didn’t get a “new” system. The same POS Securus system is still in place. All the BOCC and Securus did was change a contract.Securis is still there screwing the families, inmates and the county. There were better options out there for the county. Maybe the Sheriff needs to explore those.