Q: Since you started your career in corrections, you have stated you have a special interest in this division. Can you share some statistics about the St. Johns County Jail?
A: We have 140 deputy sheriffs and 75 civilian staff at our facility who are responsible for the care, custody and control of individuals in our jail. We have great employees with positive attitudes. In addition, we have a separate 50-bed facility that houses our work release center. Individuals from here work on our compound, for instance in the laundry or kitchen, and we use their work to offset tax dollars that would be needed to perform these tasks.
Last year, we averaged 410 adults, male and female, in our facility, which has a maximum capacity of 630. Last year our agency had just over 4,000 arrests that were brought to the St. Johns County Jail.
Our new director of the jail is Tara Wildes. She comes to us from Duval County with 37 years of experience in corrections and a wealth of knowledge. She’s in charge of one of our larger divisions, with more than 200 personnel.
Q: What is your goal as far as the corrections division is concerned?
A: Our goal is to make the individual a better person than when they came to our facility. We offer many programs in this regard, including substance abuse, mental health and faith-based programs. We also offer programs to make the individuals more marketable when they get out. We have teamed with First Coast Technical College to bring certification programs in fields such as culinary arts, cosmetology, small engine repair and landscaping to our facility. We also hope to partner with local businesses so that we can help these folks get jobs when they get out.
We have recently hired Deputy Johnson and I have tasked him with being innovative and creative and coming up with a great reentry program for us. He is also a pastor and retired from the Duval County Jail, as well as currently serving in the Army Reserves. He will act as a liaison with the faith-based community so hopefully they can help people when they get out of jail. He’s redesigning our faith-based programs inside our facility as well.
Q: How has COVID-19 impacted the correctional facility?
A: It has been a challenging time. We have our own COVID quarantine block for people when they first enter the facility. We are currently working with the county to get vaccinations available for the jail population.
Q: What are some other improvements you see in the correctional division?
A: At one time, everything — substance abuse, mental health/Baker Acts, and crime — came to the jail. We are trying to triage better and get people to the proper place. Individuals who are Baker Acted now go to Flagler Health+ and we rely on our not for profit partners to provide psychological and substance abuse services.
As you said, I started my career in corrections. To this day, I try to walk the jail from one end to the other one to two times per week. I think it’s important to talk to my employees as well as those serving time.
Q: What is the best way for our readers to contact you with any questions or suggestions about this article?
A: They can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at (904) 824-8304. Also, our website, www.sjso.org has a wealth of resources, from alarm registration to Crime Stoppers to our Neighbors app.