Flagler County expanded its county jail in July 2016, more than tripling the number of people it could detain. Later that year, the county elected a new sheriff—Rick Staly—who has since boasted about the record number of individuals in the jail and about the poor conditions therein.
Staly has unveiled signs labeling the jail the “Green Roof Inn.” In a YouTube video he released, he stands next to a large neon sign meant to mimic a motel. “We have a one-star rating and we’re working to lower that as I’m speaking,” he says before running through a list of “accommodations” (“there is no privacy in this hotel,” and “you eat what we give you, or you don’t eat”). Staly told the Daytona Beach News-Journal that these theatrics were “a warning to potential offenders that the jail is not a 5-star hotel.”
Staly has a history of broadcasting contempt for the people in his custody. “If you are still in need of sandbags, head to the Bunnell Fire Station and let the inmates do the labor for you,” he told Flagler County residents preparing for Hurricane Irma in September 2017.
Staly has also released multiple statements celebrating his jail’s “record high inmate population” and claiming credit for the growth. “We continue to set new inmate records and when they are in our jail they are not preying on our community,” he said when the jail hit 256 detainees earlier this month—a number far higher than the jail’s pre-expansion capacity of 132.
During Staly’s 2016 campaign, Flagler Live asked him about expanding the jail in a context where crime is not increasing. “Jail beds have a way of abhorring emptiness,” warned the interviewer. “What will you do to keep beds from getting filled just because they’re there?” Staly answered by effectively denying the sheriff’s responsibility in affecting the number of jail detentions; some of Staly’s opponents struck a different tune in answering the same question, stating a goal of keeping the jail’s population steady or citing their support for issuing more citations over arrests.
Staly is working to advance the nationwide effort to treat the sale of drugs that lead to an overdose as a homicide; The Appeal recently reported from Rhode Island on this trend’s dire effects on mass incarceration and public health. Upon becoming sheriff, Staly instructed his deputies to investigate all overdose deaths as murders. The state attorney later charged a man with murder over the death of a woman to whom he had sold fentanyl, a development that Staly celebrated. “I hope you rot in prison until you die,” he said at a press conference.
Staly, a Republican, is up for re-election in 2020 in this GOP-leaning county in Northeast Florida.