State inmates leave jail; litter pickup suffering

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 7, 2001

[08/07/01] A shortage of inmates to fill regional and private prisons in the state has cost the county a litter-pickup program for the time being, Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace said.

“The Department of Corrections, in a rush to fill jails, is not allowing the local sheriff to determine which inmates can be taken,” Pace said. “We’ve had no level A’ trusties for more than a week. Right now, we’re at a standstill.”

Level A’ custody means that an inmate can work outside the jail property under supervision.

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The program, a topic at Monday’s meeting of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, began in 1996 and was discontinued in the fall of 2000 after the vehicle used to transport inmates to various sites broke down.

In May, the program was reinstated after the highway department supplied a vehicle and driver to take inmates to various locations around the county. Litter crews were sent out to the county four days a week and were composed of four to six inmates.

The only eligible inmates were those considered minimum-security risks, and Pace said that safety was a main consideration in selecting them.

County road manager Rhea Fuller said the inmate program has been a big help to the road department and he’s sorry the program has been put on hold.

“It’s put us in a position where we aren’t going to be able to pick up as much litter as we have been,” Fuller said. He said the road department will continue to clean up litter, but additional personnel will be required that will cost the county more.

“We have no choice but to do that because it has to be picked up,” Fuller said. “We would certainly welcome the return of the inmates if the sheriff can find a way to work it out.”

The incentive for the inmates, who legally cannot be forced to work and are all volunteers, is time off of their sentences. Each inmate gets one day off the end of a sentence, up to 180 days, for each day worked.

But where the practice of housing state inmates in county jails was once widespread, new regional prisons have been built and contracts with private prisons guarantee payments whether inmates are housed or not. That has meant fewer people eligible to work here.

Pace said he expects to see the litter program reinstated in the next few weeks. “This is nothing I anticipate to last for a long period of time,” he said.

Holly Simrall of Keep Vicksburg-Warren Beautiful said she thought the program was a benefit to the county and hopes it will resume soon.

“It’s a real disappointment,” Simrall said. “I hope they can get the inmates who can do it and continue the program in the future.”

Other alternatives include working with the justice court judges to see if they will order people convicted of misdemeanors to pick up litter.

In other business, the county:

Approved the name of Storie Lane for a private road off of Hennington Road and to change the address of Vicksburg Ready Mix, 1630 U.S. 80, to 1730 U.S. 80, it would be in sequence with the surrounding addresses.

Approved invoices for engineering at the River Region site for $23,986.17 and $8,626.45 to come from grants.

Accepted minutes from the Port Commission and Jury Commission.

Supervisors will meet again at 9 a.m. Monday.