County broaches subject of regional jail facility|[11/30/07]
Published 12:00 am Friday, November 30, 2007
Ideas continue to evolve about Warren County’s quest to figure out the best design and scope of a new jail, with participation in a regional facility as yet another alternative.
After some county officials went to Colorado for a U.S. Department of Justice seminar in August dealing with jail construction, they agreed to form a committee to meet with a consultant and visit recently built jails that resemble what Warren County needs.
Informally on Thursday, and with five jails and part of another up for state approval to operate in little more than a year, supervisors weighed the cost and benefits of a regional approach.
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It would house city, state and county inmates, effectively eliminating a city location due to the site size needed, estimated at 25 to 30 acres by supervisors.
“You’re talking about a lot of money in land acquisition costs,” District 1 Supervisor David McDonald said. “If we’re going to do something like that, we definitely need to get out” of the city.
Issaquena County already has a regional detention facility, the one most-often used by the City of Vicksburg at a cost of about $400,000 per year. In this year’s session, the Legislature rebuffed the idea of using Louisiana facilities for local overflow, although there is also a regional prison in Madison Parish.
Although costs of ferrying inmates back and forth to courts would rise if the existing site on Grove Street is abandoned, technology could have a role. Arraignments and other pretrial matters could be conducted by videoconference in newer jails, an amenity that could cut transportation costs but add operating costs in other areas.
District 5 Supervisor Richard George indicated more planning is needed. “We don’t want to buy a site before we know what we’re going to put on it,” he said.
Warren County’s jail is full continually, its 128 beds holding only pretrial detainees.
Along with using other governments as “customers” for a new jail, collecting fines might be improved. George characterized the current situation as “a nightmare” because courts can impose cash penalties, but without jail as an alternative for nonpayment, collections lag.
“We could collect this if we had a place to put them,” County Administrator John Smith said.
In Mississippi, regional jails must receive approval from the Legislature. Construction is overseen by the Mississippi Department of Corrections.
Projected costs of regional jails in Hinds, Chickasaw, Washington and Yazoo counties could reach $55 million, state corrections officials have said. Together, they would add more than 1,500 beds to the state’s jail space.
In Kemper County, 75 beds will be added to supplement an existing regional jail there for the purpose of housing female state prisoners.
Sheriff Martin Pace has said overcrowding now prevents Warren County Jail to house women, adding to an antiquated layout keeping guards from having a constant watch of prisoners.
Financing of a new jail in Warren County is likeliest through a bond issue. Since the seminar, however, no cost has been estimated and no financial plans or timetables have been set, but the Department of Justice says the average planning and construction time for a new jail is three to five years.