Jefferson County Commission

County Sheriff in Talks Over Regional Jail, Says “It’s a Process”

Jefferson County Sheriff Mark Pettway (Photo by Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

Mark Pettway let the Jefferson County Commission know Tuesday that you can’t always believe what you hear.

The sheriff came to the commission committee meeting to ease concerns that a deal had been struck for the county jail to house inmates who are currently at the Birmingham Jail.

“There is nothing right now other than some talks that’s going on,” Pettway said. “If you hear something, you can check with me to make sure it’s happening. Right now, there’s nothing in writing. Nothing has gone forward.”

The sheriff said officials from the city of Birmingham have talked with him about the possibility of establishing a regional jail that could accommodate prisoners from Birmingham and surrounding areas. Pettway said he has also talked with attorneys for the city.

“We’re just talking some things out,” he said. “We need to have a chance to talk with the (county’s) legal department. We’ll find out some things that may not work. We’ll find some things that may work. It’s a process.

“It’s not something that is etched in stone right now,” Pettway said. “We don’t have anything that’s written down. We’re trying to put out (dispel) all the rumors that’s out there. There’s nothing to comment on right now.”

Jefferson County Commissioner Lashunda Scales (Photo by Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

Commissioner Lashunda Scales said she was taken aback by a call from a local television journalist who was asking her about the proposed regional jail. She was bothered that she didn’t know about the meeting that included Commission President Jimmie Stephens, Pro Tempore Joe Knight and Sheila Tyson, the commission’s liaison to the Sheriff’s Department.

“If we’re gonna do something, I would hope that we would move together collectively as a commission and that we don’t have some commissioners who are privy to a meeting and those who are left out,” Scales said. “Let me be clear, the majority of the homicides that were committed in this county did not come from the (unincorporated part of the) county. It is the city of Birmingham. And if the city of Birmingham is making a request, then I think that all five commissioners need to have intelligence from the person or entity that’s making asks. Then I don’t have to call anyone just to figure out what’s going on.”

County Attorney Theo Lawson said the commission has “no role in negotiations (concerning a regional jail) whatsoever.”

Jefferson County County Attorney Theo Lawson (Photo by Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

“The commission is responsible for the building, the structure,” he said, adding that any contract negotiations are in the hand of the sheriff. Lawson said commissioners can come together to receive information.

Said Tyson: “The mayor came over and wanted to talk about it, just a brief discussion. It was an idea that the city had brought up but nothing has been accepted by the Sheriff Department.”

Pettway favors a regional jail.

“This is something bigger than just Birmingham. It’s covering the whole entire county,” the sheriff said. “We need a new jail. Other municipalities need one also. Instead of building all these multiple jails, we can just build one jail that will take care of the whole county and that’s what we’re looking at doing. We want to make sure that we have an adequate jail to take care of the whole entire county.”