Jail block expected to reopen today

Published 11:45 am Wednesday, October 17, 2012

An area of the Warren County jail evacuated Monday after a fire was expected to reopen today but will do little to ease overcrowding, Sheriff Martin Pace said.

“Even when we get that cell scrubbed, we will reoccupy it, but that will only get us back to where we were,” Pace said.

Warren County Jail has 128 beds, but 141 inmates were in the jail at the time of the fire, Pace said. Overcrowding forced 18 inmates from the cell block where the fire occurred to be sent to Rankin County Jail in Brandon, he said. Brandon is about 50 miles east of Vicksburg.

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The overcrowding problem is only going to get worse with the October term of the grand jury at the end of the month, Pace said.

During arraignment, some defendants have their bail revoked and others are arrested after secret indictment, Pace said. With the extra surge of inmates coming, Pace is looking as far away as Brookhaven to house prisoners. Brookhaven is about 70 miles from Vicksburg.

“I’m responsible for incarcerating those that the court says need to be incarcerated,” Pace said. “Since we don’t have an adequate facility here, it’s my duty to find space elsewhere.”

Transporting inmates to other counties can dramatically increase fuel and overtime costs for the sheriff’s department, Pace said. Deputies performing the transports must work overtime so that the department can remain fully staffed, he said.

“I can’t pull law enforcement staff off the streets of Vicksburg and off the roads of Warren County to transport out of county,” Pace said.

The cell block where the fire occurred, in the newer part of the jail at Cherry and Grove streets, was closed after inmates set fire to pieces of paper and bed sheets Monday night, Pace said. The fire is still under investigation, and arson charges might be forthcoming, he said.

“We are still performing interviews and reviewing the security tape,” Pace said.

The cell block suffered smoke damage, but there was no structural damage, he said.

The inmates were expected to be returned from Brandon today, but Warren County will have to pay Rankin County $30 per inmate for meals and housing costs, Pace said.

“That cost is standard across the state, but we still remain responsible for medical and transportation,” he said.

If a Warren County inmate becomes sick while in another county’s jail, Warren County is responsible for the medical bills, Pace said.

“Anything besides acute care, we will have to bring them back here to the hospital,” he said.

The Warren County Jail was built in 1906 and renovated in 1977, Pace said. Only a small part of the 1906 facility is still used to house prisoners, Pace said. City prisoners often are jailed at the Issaquena County Correctional Facility, increasing costs for housing and transportation. Eleven county prisoners were in the Issaquena County jail this morning.

The grand jury, which meets in January, May, July and October, will tour the jail and other county facilities at the end of the month and make recommendations. In the past four years, a new Warren County Jail has been at the top of the grand jury report 15 times.