Data collection in full swing for new county jail

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 21, 2008

Planning for a new jail in Warren County has begun in earnest by the firm hired by supervisors with gathering of information on staffing, layout and floor plans of the current facility on Grove Street as the first step.

“We got started this month,” said Dave Voorhis, president and principal consultant for Colorado-based Voorhis/Robertson Justice Services Inc., adding the plan will stay on pace for a final draft by the end of 2009 as long as the firm can get accurate data from local officials.

Other research collected initially may include capacity projections for the next 20 years and alternatives to new construction. Recommendations are expected in the final report on the size, location and features of a new jail — all customized to the county’s determined needs.

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Consultants and county officials will meet to evaluate the early data, Voorhis said.

In August, supervisors hired the company following the recommendation of a five-member panel consisting of County Administrator John Smith, Sheriff Martin Pace, Undersheriff Jeff Riggs, District 1 Supervisor David McDonald and Purchasing Agent Tonga Vinson.

The company’s $139,908 offer for its services was graded as the best of three proposals because of the company’s track record and the experience of its principal operators, Voorhis and James R. Robertson.

Since 1977, both have consulted the National Institute of Corrections in Longmont, Colo., part of the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons. Technical assistance listed on the company Web site includes facility planning and construction management. Both have law enforcement experience, Voorhis as chief of police and assistant sheriff in Boulder, Colo., and Robertson in the Maryland Department of Corrections.

More than 100 states, counties and cities have enlisted the firm’s services in some capacity since 1991. Projects have ranged from small, special use facilities to 3,000-bed adult and juvenile correctional facilities.

Funding and finding a site figure to be the largest issues in replacing the current jail, built in 1907 and renovated in the 1970s.

Voorhis said a site evaluation will take place in the study’s early phases and will take a look at the most ideal sites.

“We’ll develop criteria for it, avoid schools and things like that,” Voorhis said.

Proximity to current county infrastructure close to downtown, such as the courthouse and government services annex, has been in favor of building close to the current jail. Rural sites away from major development have been chosen for jails built recently, however.

A bond issue to be financed over 10 years or more has not been ruled out as the funding mechanism. As for construction offers and architectural services, which the consulting firm will have a hand in choosing, phones and e-mail have stayed busy, Smith said.

“They’ve been coming out of the woodwork,” Smith said.

Warren County Jail’s 128 beds are full nearly all the time with pretrial detainees, which has led to most prisoners held by the City of Vicksburg to be held in Issaquena County. In August, the city contracted with Leake County, 92 miles from Vicksburg, to hold city detainees. Spending on housing its municipal detainees in other counties was expected to drain city coffers by more than $400,000 this fiscal year.

Other concepts such as regional jails and tent-based prisons have been discussed in short by both the city and county.


Contact Danny Barrett Jr. at