Jail should come with changes, officials say

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Systemwide change to the criminal justice system remains a key facet of building a new jail in Warren County, according to county officials back from touring detention facilities in the Midwest.

Costs for a modern jail with cells arranged like pods are assured to run in the millions and could require voter approval to raise tax rates, District 1 Supervisor David McDonald said. More important than mere design, McDonald said, is making criminal cases flow faster from jail cell to courtroom and ensuring that a new jail isn’t instantly crowded with pretrial detainees.

“It’s not just the jail, it’s the whole system that’s flawed,” said McDonald, who visited facilities in Kentucky and Indiana last week with Undersheriff Jeff Riggs, Chief Deputy Jay McKenzie and County Administrator John Smith.

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The four met with officials and lead planner Dave Voorhis in Marion and Carroll counties in Kentucky and Wayne and Grant counties in Indiana. Lockups there were built with consultation from Voorhis/Robertson Justice Services Inc., which is to wrap up a study by April detailing the ideal size and scope of a new jail to replace the current jail at Cherry and Grove streets.

Jails visited ranged in capacity from 300 to 1,100, McDonald said, learning how they are managed as well as how they appear. While there are legal obstacles to some changes, McDonald indicated his greatest fear was failing to increase efficiency.

“Sometimes, (a prisoner) might sit in jail for two grand juries, especially if you have to send evidence to the state crime lab,” McDonald said.

Formation of a committee to look at how cases are processed — a key suggestion of the consulting firm during a December presentation — is in the works McDonald said, adding he will revisit the topic this week with circuit judges Isadore Patrick and M. James Chaney and District Attorney Ricky Smith. Youth Court Judge Johnny Price will be represented by staff on such a committee, but not the judge himself — Price serves as judge of eminent domain court, which could come into play when it comes to site selection, McDonald said. Vicksburg municipal officials and those from the sheriff’s department would sit on the committee, as well as up to 15 private citizens will be chosen for the panel to represent the public.

“We’ll have a couple of private citizens with no agenda other than the betterment of the city and the county,” McDonald said.

Details in advance of Voorhis’ final report point to a 350-bed facility built on 50 rural acres sometime in the next four years. Built more than a century ago, the current jail is essentially a perpetually full waiting room, holding 128 pre-trial detainees awaiting trial. Sheriff Martin Pace has said an expandable jail may recertify the county to hold state prisoners so a work detail system can be re-established.

Staffing models suggest more than tripling the current manpower to 80 after the first year of operation. Site selection doesn’t figure to begin in earnest until the conceptual study is completed.

Last week’s trip offered insight on site selection, if only for aesthetics and what can be done if locals’ choice for a site runs into opposition from adjacent landowners.

“A lot of them were next to horse farms, so they just built them to look like horse farms,” McDonald said.


Contact Danny Barrett Jr. at dbarrett@vicksburgpost.com