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COVER STORY | Vol. 6, No. 24, June 15, 2006
(The Milton Hilton)

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Welcome to the Milton Hilton

by Duwayne Escobedo

You know you are entering a county jail.

First you must pass an I.D. checkpoint, where a uniformed officer behind a thick plate of glass takes your driver's license through an automated drop box. Then, you must pass through two steel doors whose locks are remotely controlled by another unseen officer in a central control room concealed by a black tinted window. If that's not a dead giveaway, then the green signs huddled near the entrance and exit with detailed do's, don'ts, instructions and warnings are.

Still once inside, the thought crosses your mind that this concrete and steel fortress feels almost like a museum. You half expect Dali's Botanical paintings on the walls of the wide, polished corridors.

It's quiet in a peaceful—not eerie—way. Everyone acts pleasant, smiles and even makes jokes.

Welcome to the Milton Hilton, also known as the Santa Rosa County jail.

We half jokingly ask Lt. Paul Campbell to show us the torture chambers in the dungeon. He just chuckles.

"Some refer to us as the Milton Hilton," says the 21-year veteran of corrections. "We don't take that as an insult. We take it as a compliment. We don't want to stir up things. We like it quiet."

For the next two hours, Campbell guides us through every facet of the 139,000-square-foot jail opened in May 1997. It's a jail he helps oversee and operate. In addition, he heads training of the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office Detention Division's 81 correctional officers.

JAIL CUSTOMERS

Along the way we bump into several guests, we mean, inmates.

One jailer is checking out. He carries what looks like a laundry basket with his possessions. A Santa Rosa County guard asks him if he wants the jail to reserve his concrete bunk? "No way," the inmate replies, laughing. He promises to never stay here again.

Campbell points out an inmate who's a homeless man who has regularly checked in

and out on various infractions as long as anyone can remember.  

"I don't think he has any place to live," Campbell says. "This is probably the best home he has got."

Another con waves and preens through a glass window in the steel-reinforced door to one of the jail's four split-level pods, which have open dormitory-style areas. He wants his photo taken.

A guard points at a Santa Rosa County jail regular and says one time he bumped into the man and his family at the Texas Roadhouse in Milton. The frequent inmate insisted on buying the officer's family their dinners for treating him fairly in jail.

You might think that Santa Rosa County is soft on criminals. But that's not the way Campbell perceives it.

He helped rewrite the Santa Rosa County jail's standards. And he has served as a Florida Sheriff's Association jail inspector, conducting annual Florida Model Jail Standards inspections throughout the Panhandle, since 1997.

"This is a high-stress environment," explains Campbell, who looks like an NFL linebacker. "But we are in the people business and 98 percent of this job is attitude. Most of these people are pre-sentenced detainees. They're not convicted of anything. They still have all their constitutional rights. What we have to do is not create our

own problems. We don't want anyone dying in our custody."

CUSTODY DEATHS

Three people have died since the Santa Rosa County facility opened nine years ago. Campbell remembers all their names and the daily newspaper covered each death on the front of its local news section.

• Cheryl Ann Browder died about four hours after being arrested in January 2001. The 28-year-old, who was arrested on a domestic violence battery charge, was found by the medical examiner to have died from a multiple-drug overdose. Corrections deputies say they placed her under suicide watch and checked on her every 15 minutes until being unable to wake her about 9 a.m.

• Bernard Daigler died in May 2001 after deputies found him unconscious in his cell. Daigler, a 61-year-old who was arrested on charges of sexual battery on an 11-year-old boy, died from asphyxiation because of hanging the medical examiner ruled.

• John David Barlow died in August 2002 from natural causes an autopsy determined. The 43-year-old, who lunged at a deputy during a medical exam in the jail and had to be restrained, was awaiting a court hearing for a probation violation. When jail authorities took him to West Florida Community Care Center in Milton for a psychiatric evaluation he reportedly blacked out, went into a coma and died.

Santa Rosa County Sheriff Wendell Hall has maintained that if corrections officers err in any way, the agency will take full responsibility.

It's a responsibility that Campbell says the detention division takes seriously.

"You'll deal with something 1,000 times the same way without any problems, then you have that one incident," he says. "You don't always see something coming until it explodes. We try to be up to date, progressive in the way we look at things and proactive from the sheriff on down."

Because of that commitment, Campbell and Capt. Woody Seevers, the Santa Rosa County jail's director, recently attended a "Custody Death Symposium" along with other Florida law enforcement officials, including representatives from Escambia and Okaloosa counties.

As a result, Santa Rosa County corrections deputies will soon begin getting training in how to recognize, intervene and reduce excited delerium conditions, which are often exhibited by mentally ill and alcohol and drug abusers.

MENTALLY ILL CRISIS

Dealing with mentally ill arrestees is a huge concern, Campbell says, especially given recent state funding cutbacks and local newspaper headlines involving the August death of Robert Boggon in the Escambia County Jail.

Cutbacks that took effect May 1 at West Florida Community Care Center mean Santa Rosa County jail deputies can no longer take inmates their for psychiatric treatment. Campbell says he also has several inmates waiting, some as long as February, to get into Florida State Hospital in Chatahoochee for mental treatment.

"I keep calling to ask if they have a bed available and they tell me no," the lieutenant says.

The Santa Rosa County jail once had an all rubber room but it had to be torn out after one "creative" inmate tore open the seams and defecated inside. The room couldn't be sterilized and restored, Campbell says.

The jail, though, because no crowding problem currently exists, has reserved one area where inmates who have special needs or are disabled have individual cells.

Detainees exhibiting bizarre behavior are immediately taken to a hospital for evaluation, Campbell says. Also, the Santa Rosa County jail, like Escambia and Okaloosa, also contracts its healthcare services with Prison Health Services, which provides a mental health counselor five days a week and psychiatrist once a week.

And what happens if a mentally ill inmate spits a lot or refuses to bathe?

Campbell says corrections officers let one inmate spit until a door window was dripping wet and adds, "We do not coerce or use force to bathe somebody. Sometimes the mentally incompetent do not want to bathe."

During a tour of jail's infirmary, Campbell notes that the 30-bed medical facility has a separate air system that kills most bacteria and contains infections.

TASERS AND CHAIRS

What catches our attention are two gray restraining chairs sitting haphazardly in a corner. The chairs have soft restraints that wrap around the shoulders, lap, arms and legs. They have wheels and can be tipped like a dolly to move someone but they cannot be tipped over.

On one of Santa Rosa County's restraint chairs one strap is duct taped where somebody tried to chew through the restraint. If an inmate gets the chair, they are observed every 15 minutes, checked after the first 30 minutes by a nurse and restrained no longer than two hours under Santa Rosa County jail policy.

"It's better they fight against (the chair) than hurt themselves," Campbell says. "We don't use it to punish, and only use it if someone is extremely violent or self-destructive."

The restraint chair, pepper spray and Taser Guns are good advancements in corrections work, Campbell insists. Santa Rosa County jail guards use Tasers less than 10 times a year on average, he says.

"They are so much more effective than the old pig pile," he says. "With all the concrete and steel, there were bound to be broken bones."

Any use of force is seriously and completely examined by supervisors in Santa Rosa County in a process called "CYA," which stands for cover your ass. Only one corrections officer was terminated in the past decade for excessive force, Campbell says.

"We live in a litigious society and the decision a law enforcement officer makes in a split second is a decision that could be critiqued for years," he explains. "We look thoroughly at situations where we've used force. An investigation is done and then the sheriff has a lot of leeway to suspend or terminate a deputy."

Campbell and his Santa Rosa County counterparts pride themselves on weeding out the cowboys during training. Currently, the county's corrections officers average between six and eight years experience with just a handful possess more than 15 years on the job. A large segment has under two years working in the jail.

"We had interviews this morning, really that's a never ending thing," Campbell admits about turnover. "We always need help."

Corrections officers must receive at least 40 hours of training every four years and are offered incentives for doing more or attending college. Required training includes learning about blood borne pathogens, Taser Guns, identification of ingredients commonly used in methaphetamine, and excited delerium among other things.

GLOOM AND DOOM?

Despite meeting standards from both the Florida Sheriff's Association's

Florida Model Jail Standards, which are considered among the highest standards in the country with jails analyzed on more than 225 criteria in a 29-page report, and Florida Corrections Accreditation Commission, Campbell admits looming problems.

He recalls in the old county jail dealing with 90 inmates total when he started in 1985. Before the completion of the current jail the old jail regularly had more than 80 inmates above its 178-inmate capacity.

Now, the Santa Rosa County jail averages 450 inmates in a facility with a capacity for 540. The jail was constructed with future expansion in mind. Two new pods can be added, increasing capacity by 250.

During the next five years, the sheriff's office plans to seek funding to expand. Santa Rosa County voters twice unanimously passed referendums to build the current $22.5 million facility.

In addition, it plans on building a new work release center for inmates allowed to remain employed at their jobs and serve their time when the workday is over. Combined with about 50 inmates currently monitored by Global Positioning System, the jail has been able to keep from overcrowding.

"We need to build more space now and not wait until we have a situation," Campbell insists, pointing out crowding makes it harder, for example, to keep EHRs or extremely high risks classified away from say a DUI offender.

Also on the wish list, is a place to house juveniles charged as adults separately; a place for female inmates, who number about 80 currently and are housed in the same facility with their jail dormitory placed behind a tarp to segregate them from male inmates; and money for additional corrections officers because currently it must run deputies on overtime to guard one of the jail's four pods.

Still, Campbell says he's thankful for the problems he must deal with compared to other facilities in the region.

 "Florida has one of the highest jail standards," he says. "You go 30 miles north into Alabama and every jail can do their own thing. That leaves you open to all kind of problems.

We talk about our inmates and try to be proactive where we see some potential problems and try to catch them before they happen and we make headlines."


Florida Model Jail Standards

Florida's jail standards are considered among the highest in the nation. Each year, all county jails must undergo the 29-page inspection that analyzes about 225 criteria under a dozen categories ranging from security and control to sanitation. For instance, did you know there must be one toilet for every eight inmates and one shower for every 16 inmates? It's then up to each sheriff to improve deficiencies discovered during the inspections. Following are a sampling of some of the questions that jail inspectors must answer.


• Are inmates held no longer than eight hours in holding cells without documentation justifying the extension and including 15 minute documented checks?

• Unless medically cleared, unconscious, seriously ill or seriously injured persons are not admitted to the facility?

• Does close supervision of special inmates include regular, documented physical sight checks by correctional officers or medical personnel at intervals not to exceed 15 minutes?                        

• Are accommodations for reading and writing available for use during non-sleeping hours?

• Are inmates required to bathe at least twice weekly?                          

• When an inmate is confined for medical reasons, is he/she examined by a physician or designee within 48 hours?

• Is there a procedure to account for cutlery equipment?                          

• Is outdoor exercise, weather permitting, allowed for a minimum of three hours per week?

• Is one full "lock down" count conducted daily?

• Restraints are not used as punishment and appropriately stored?            

• Is the facility free of vermin?

• Are juveniles held only if the facility has adequate staff to monitor them at all times?

Source: Florida Sheriff's Association


Santa Rosa County Jail By The Numbers

2—Maximum hours inmates are allowed to remain in restraint chairs. They must be observed every 15 minutes and a nurse must check them 30 minutes after being put in chair.

3—Inmates who have died in Santa Rosa County jail custody since 1997.

6-8—Average experience of Santa Rosa County corrections deputies.

10—Santa Rosa County jail officials claim single-digit use of Taser Guns last year.

28—GED graduates during the past year through Santa Rosa County jail education program.

30—Everyone booked into Santa Rosa County jail must get a medical history and vitals checked within 30 minutes.

50—Inmates being monitored by Global Positioning System.

80—Total female inmates currently in jail.

90—Total Santa Rosa County inmates in 1985, compared to 450 today.

225—Criteria analyzed in each jail annually under the Florida Model Jail Standards overseen by the Florida Sheriff's Association.

364—Maximum number of days a person can be sentenced to the county jail.

540—Total inmate capacity at Santa Rosa County jail.

$22.5 million—Cost to build Santa Rosa County jail, which opened in May 1997.

duwayne@inweekly.net