City has spent $2 million to house prisoners elsewhere

Published 9:29 am Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Since 2009, the city of Vicksburg has spent more than $2 million — more than $1 million of that at the Issaquena County Correctional Facility — to house city inmates at other county jails in the state, city officials learned Monday.

It’s a price the city pays because there’s no room at the Warren County Jail to house its prisoners. A new jail, according to Warren County Board of Supervisors President Richard George, is three to five years away.

That $2.1 million does not include the cost of picking up the prisoners from other jails, bringing them to Vicksburg for court, and returning them to the facilities, according to statistics from the Vicksburg Police Department.

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“These numbers never go down,” North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield said. “If you think it’s going down, you might as well go on ahead put your head in the sand and let them start kicking your butt now, because it’s not going down.”

The cost of housing and transporting city prisoners was discussed at a Monday Board of Mayor and Aldermen work session to study options for possibly reducing those costs.

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. listed several possible alternatives, including seeking legislation allowing the city to house prisoners in Madison Parish, La., or the city taking action on its own, possibly having its own detention center.

Flaggs declined to give specifics on any alternative, pending more information on the costs of housing male and female prisoners and felons, and the legal boundaries of sending prisoners to a jail in another state.

Once he gets those figures, he said, “I’m going to show you how to reduce the cost of keeping those prisoners. We have to figure out how to reduce the city’s cost to keep inmates, whether to privatize or not, and to keep the citizens safety first.”

The city already uses alternative measures to avoid putting misdemeanor offenders in jail through the Municipal Court’s community service program and the use of ankle bracelets. The ankle bracelet program, which is used to monitor offenders, costs the city $10 a day, less than the cost of putting a person in jail on a misdemeanor charge. At $28 per inmate per day, the Issaquena County Correctional Facility in Mayersville gets most of the city’s business. Since 2009, the city has spent $1.9 million to house prisoners there. Presently, the city’s 22 prisoners comprise most of the facility’s total inmate population of 33.

“We’re keeping Issaquena functioning,” Mayfield said.

Other prisoners are kept at Copiah County, which charges $28 per inmate per day, Jefferson County charging $20, and Madison County, which $45 per inmate per day. Police Chief Walter Armstrong said the city has budgeted $250,000 in fiscal 2016 to cover housing inmates, adding, “I don’t think it’s going to be enough.”

Since 2013, the city has used two vans averaging $14,600 to $29,200 in gasoline a year, and $28,080 per year in salaries for officers to pickup prisoners, bring them to Vicksburg for court, and return them to the facilities.

That creates a safety issue for the officers, Armstrong said.

“Anybody who deals with transporting inmates will tell you the most dangerous time is during the arrest and transporting of an inmate,” Armstrong said. “Basically, moving them up and down the road for that far a distance, certainly opens us up to a risk of an altercation or encounter with the people who are being transported.

“The more driving you do, it increases your chances of being involved in an accident. During hunting season, we help keep the body shops in business, because between here and Issaquena we have a lot of deer-related accidents. If we had our own jail, some of the costs would go away or be reduced significantly. One would be the cost of gas (which averages $40 to $80 per day).”

Because Municipal Court was in session Monday, he said, officers had already made three trips to Issaquena and one trip to Madison County before 1 p.m.

Besides the cost of gas, Armstrong said police department policy requires at least two officers to travel to other counties if more than one prisoner is picked up or taken to another jail.

“We have one officer assigned to transport prisoners, so when he goes, he has to take another officer off the street to go with him, because we don’t want one officer to transport more than one inmate by himself,” he said. “So while there’s safety in numbers, at the same time, we’re pulling away officers who are assigned to patrol the city of Vicksburg.”

Also, he said, if offenders are held through lunchtime, the city has to provide lunch.

“We pay for their meals at the jail where they’re held, but if they are here when it’s lunch, we have to feed them, so we’re paying twice,” he said.

The Monday meeting followed comments made Wednesday by George about a new county jail.

George, who attended the meeting with county administrator John Smith, said later the 3- to 5-year estimate is still correct.

“By the time we get the design, get the money to do it, go through the legal process of getting the land, three to five years should be right,” he said after the meeting. “I’d like to see it done in less than five years, but I don’t think that will happen.”

“If they’re going to wait three to five years to build a jail,” Flaggs said, “We need to be looking out now how to reduce our costs.”

 

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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