Sharkey takes first steps to replace dilapidated jail

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 28, 2000

Sheriff Jake Cartlidge stands in a hallway of jail cells in the Sharkey County jail. He hopes the county will build a jail to replace the one he considers obsolete. (The Vicksburg Post/PAT SHANNAHAN)

ROLLING FORK Overflowing toilets that leak through the ceiling and into the office spaces below is just one of the reasons Sharkey County officials are looking to build a new jail.

Sheriff Jake Cartlidge said he is hopeful county supervisors can work the possible $1 million project into the new budget that begins Oct. 1. Two weeks ago, supervisors voted to have the county engineer begin putting together plans for the new structure.

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“It would be good to come into a jail where you don’t have to put down buckets every time someone flushes the toilet,” Cartlidge said.

Problems with the nearly 40-year-old building range from unexplainable smells of smoke emanating from the walls to a lack of emergency exits. The only ways out of the second floor prison that houses an average of 15 inmates is a narrow hallway connecting to the neighboring courthouse or a staircase leading to the Sheriff’s Department downstairs.

A single passage leads to the hallway and the stairs, but what concerns Chief Deputy Cardell Hughes is getting the inmates out of their cells.

“If we have a fire, we will have to go and open each and every door,” Hughes said.

In some of the cells, interior gates remain open because locking mechanisms have failed, while other gates are held together by wire hangers. Exterior doors keep inmates in by keyed locks, but an automatic system to open the doors in an emergency was never part of the jail’s original plans.

Prisoner safety is not the only concern motivating the county to look for a new jail.

In the Mississippi Forestry Commission office under the jail, Vicki Dinning has found more than buckets under the leaking ceiling. Chicken bones have been washed away in the flood from overflowing toilets in the prison cells and ended up in the middle of her office floor.

“We get raw sewage,” Dinning said as she pointed to the hole in the ceiling above her office where replacing ceiling tiles has become obsolete. “You can only imagine the health concerns.”

Floor tiles have been lost to the constantly damp conditions, and despite Dinning’s efforts to place potpourri throughout the office, the smell of mildew is plain to every visitor, she said.

“People say can’t you smell that?’ but I don’t even notice it anymore,” Dinning said.

The exposed area reveals corrosion on pipes and fixtures. Repairs have been made over the years, but funds always fall short, Cartlidge said.

“It would cost more to renovate it than to build a new one,” he said.

Sharkey County grand juries over the years have chastised the county for the condition of the structure. Since he took office in 1996, Cartlidge said every grand jury has stressed the need for a new facility.

County officials are also considering remodeling the county courthouse. The 98-year-old structure is listed on the Mississippi Register of Historic Structures, and the county is limited on changes that can be made.

County officials are considering issuing 20-year obligation bonds to fund both, but Hughes said the county could quickly make that money back with a new jail. The current facility houses a maximum of 18 inmates, but by constructing a larger jail, with 30 to 35 beds, the jail could house state prisoners.

With overcrowding an issue in many Mississippi jails, the state would pay the county to hold the inmates and those funds could pay off the bonds, Hughes said.