Choose jail site by August, consultant urges supervisors

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A 16-month study of what Warren County needs to build, staff and manage a new jail was handed to supervisors Monday, setting a schedule for choosing a site — a step already taking a back seat to cost.

The final report says a committee should be assembled by June 1 to evaluate locations and pick one by mid-August. Voorhis/Robertson Justice Services says a site needs to be lined up by the end of October, whether purchased from a private owner or not.

“We need to select a site before we go much further,” said Dave Voorhis during a brief presentation to supervisors and sheriff’s department officials.

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Unchanged from drafts is the suggestion of a 134,000-square-foot, 350-bed facility built on at least 20 acres. The 148-page final report presents architectural and staffing needs separately.

Ideally, a new jail must also be expandable to 650 beds and likely will need a 50-acre tract. Jail staff must be tripled from current numbers and concentrated in the housing and security functions. Several systemic changes to the way criminal cases are processed also are suggested in the final report, such as having a public defender’s office and following federal models to classify which inmates pose the greatest security risks and house them accordingly.

Other criteria mentioned in the study tied to finding the most suitable site are access and cost for utilities, cost of developing a site, purchase price, avoiding locations beyond 15 miles from other government offices, highway access, compatible land use and avoiding schools and neighborhoods.  

Supervisors initiated the planning process due to the age and condition of the county’s jail at Cherry and Grove streets, which underwent a major expansion in 1979 and several smaller expansions since. The jail, which remains at capacity, was termed in the study as poorly staffed and inadequate for future use.

Analyses on what construction and operation costs will cost taxpayers up to 20 years was ongoing, supervisors said. Purchasing a site and preparing it are as close as the study comes to offering financing advice. Most cost estimates by Voorhis and local officials have settled between $20 million and $30 million, based on recently built jails in Mississippi.

“Mr. Voorhis was so thorough — painfully thorough, in areas,” Sheriff Martin Pace said. “I think it’s important that we as county government look beyond the obvious and look deeply into what some of our problems are that have brought us to this situation.”  

The Colorado-based firm has been paid $116,366.54 since the study began, according to county records. Voorhis has asked to be retained for further consultation on recommended overhauls to the justice system as part of a parallel effort by a justice system committee, the core of which involves District 1 Supervisor David McDonald, District Attorney Ricky Smith, the county’s five circuit and justice court judges and a representative of youth court. The board has yet to officially extend the company’s contract.

“Just about anything the committee recommends is going to take money,” McDonald said, though citing recommendations like population management and a work-release program as examples of changes that can be done sooner rather than later.

The goal of the process study is to reduce pretrial detainees, which make up almost 100 percent of the jail population today.

The justice system committee has its next session at 1 p.m. May 19 and, for the first time, plans to involve at least a quorum of supervisors. Involvement in the panel’s meetings has included occasional participation from the Vicksburg-Warren County Chamber of Commerce and Warren Yazoo Mental Health.

Vicksburg has rarely used the Warren County Jail for many years. Instead, city detainees are ferried to a regional facility in Mayersville. How the city and county would cooperate on a new jail project also remains to be determined.

Contact Danny Barrett Jr. at