A Mobile City Council committee agreed Wednesday morning to move forward with plans that would allow Metro Jail to expand its inmate processing area and harden its misdemeanor barracks.
In a short, 15-minute meeting, the council’s administrative services committee voted to move forward to the full body a request from the Mobile County Commission to close portions of two downtown streets to allow the expansion to take place.
Sheriff Sam Cochran and members of the commission originally asked the city to vacate portions of St. Emmanuel and Conception streets near the jail. The move would allow officials to begin work to increase security at the barracks from minimum to medium. It would also allow for an increase to three lanes at the jail’s sally port, where inmates are transferred and allow for an expansion of the inmate processing area, which Cochran told Lagniappe would lead to easier, more efficient booking and release of prisoners.
At Wednesday’s meeting, County Attorney Jay Ross and City Attorney Ricardo Woods proposed that councilors only close the streets indefinitely instead of hand over ownership to the county through vacation.
“In the future if the county didn’t operate there, the streets could revert back to the city,” he said.
The county doesn’t plan to place any permanent structures in the closed streets, Ross said, just a “sophisticated” set of fences and gates that can be removed relatively easily.
Woods told councilors the benefit of simply approving a resolution to close the streets instead of assenting to a vacation are three fold. He said it allows the county to address the jail’s security concerns, it gives the city the option of reopening the streets at a later date and it simplifies the process.
Councilors who had spoken in favor of the plan previously seemed to be bigger proponents of the simpler process.
“I have no opposition to the proposal,” Councilman Fred Richardson, who serves on the committee, said. “The proposal today is better than it was yesterday.”
Councilwoman Bess Rich, who also serves on the committee, said the plan and the closures make sense.
“It’s a public safety issue so yes let’s recommend it to the full council,” she said.
The committee members seemed prepared to vote on the issue Tuesday, Oct. 20, despite having the option, per council rules, to hold it over one week.
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