After years of tabling the idea, county seems open to idea of new jail

Published 9:52 am Tuesday, May 10, 2016

It may be possible a new county jail may be in the picture for Warren County’s next fiscal year.

“I think the board’s going to start talking about a jail,” County Administrator John Smith said. “We were talking hot and heavy about building a jail in ‘08 or ‘09, and the economy went south, and tax assessments have been steadily decreasing over the last four years. All the economic barometers we’re looking at now are giving us signals that seem to point that it may be a good time to start talking about jail replacement.”

“The interest rate appears to be as favorable as it is going to be, and we’re exploring every possibility we can afford to make a move,” board President Richard George said. “We’ve had some discussion about financing, and plan to put together an effort to build a jail, and find a location and type of facility.

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The intent, he said, “Is there if we can see if the taxpayers can live with the increased (tax) burden. That’s our dilemma.”

George said the board will consider some of the same sites it considered during discussions to build a jail several years ago, “including the property we own at Ceres (industrial park).”

Smith’s and George’s comments follow a Monday morning work session in which the Board of Supervisors received a report from Sheriff Martin Pace on repairs to two cellblocks at the jail and a discussion of the costs of keeping county inmates at the Madison County Jail at a rate of $45 per inmate per day. Pace said an average of 30 county inmates a day were being kept in Madison County.

The cellblocks, which have a total of 36 cells, were closed about eight weeks ago because the locking mechanism of individual cells was not working properly and the company that made the locks is out of business. The company that made the lock parts is also out of business and the man that made repairs has died. Other companies are now working to fabricate the parts needed to maintain the locking mechanism.

The sheriff said maintenance work is also being done on the cells while repairs are made. He said he selected Madison County because of its size.

“They always have space available and it’s a very well-managed facility, and they always have jail space available. When we had this security issue with these cells and I called the sheriff of Madison County, he was able to house the inmates from both of those cellblocks the same day,” Pace said.

“You have to keep few cells here open and available, so when the police department or the sheriff’s department makes an arrest, we’re not having to drive to another county to house the freshly arrested people. The ones that are housed out of county are the ones that have already had their initial appearance, had their bond set, and it’s not where we have to transport them every day.”

He said all inmates at the county jail are awaiting trial, adding anyone convicted of a felony must be picked up by the Mississippi Department of Corrections officials within 30 days. The Warren County Jail, he said, cannot hold state prisoners because it can no longer pass MDOC inspection.

County supervisors in 2008 began discussing new jail, hiring a consultant and naming a five-member committee to look at plans for a new facility. The committee decided on a 130,000-square-foot jail capable of housing 350 inmates and located on about 20 to 50 acres or land. In February 2011, the board approved advertising for a site for the jail, which by state law must be located in the county seat.

Smith said the supervisors plan to renew that discussion.

“We’re just going to start talking about building a jail,” he said. “The grand jury’s talking about wanting a jail built, but there’s just as many people telling board members, ‘Don’t raise my taxes.’ They want us to lock them up ‘but don’t raise my taxes.’”

George and Smith say a key factor how well the county will be able finance a jail comes in July, when the board gets the county tax rolls.

“That first week in July and that will be a big factor,” he said.


About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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