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Sheriff: Sarasota County Jail near capacity

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SARASOTA, FL (WWSB) - Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight has warned Sarasota County Commissioners that the jail is almost at capacity, and soon they'll have a decision to make. There are two possible solutions: build a new jail or reduce the number of inmates.

The Sarasota County Jail was built in 1975. Its capacity is 1,026 beds. Today, 930 of those beds are filled.

"You have to remember, you can't just put everybody in a bed," Sheriff Knight says. "We have classifications. We have gang members. We have males. We have females."

Within a year or two, Sheriff Knight estimates that the jail won't have any room left to house inmates. At 930 beds filled, it's already over operational capacity, which puts the jail's accreditation at risk.

Crime rates in Sarasota County are actually going down as the jail population goes up. Knight says that's because there are more criminals committing third degree felonies, particularly those who are drug addicts. Those inmates serve an average of 60 days. When compared to misdemeanor convicts, they're serving an average of 21 days.

Sheriff Knight estimates that building a new jail would cost taxpayers $80 million. He's in support of instead creating diversion recovery programs for addicts.

"I believe as Sheriff that it is much more expensive to build a jail than do recovery," Knight says. "I think in the long run keeping this jail open and moving the way it is and spending money on recovery would fit the community best."

Sarasota County Commissioners seem to agree or are at least open to the idea of discussing these recovery programs. Each commissioner plans to meet with the Sheriff one on one to talk about the options.