Supervisors want construction of new jail by end of 2019

Published 9:24 am Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Warren County supervisors hope to be able to begin construction of a new jail before the end of their term in 2019, Board of Supervisors president Richard George said.
“Our intention is to have one underway (by then),” George said Tuesday at a meeting of city and county officials at the City Hall Annex.
A new jail for Warren County has been a topic of discussion for several years, as county officials look for a way to find a site and build a new corrections facility to replace the county’s 110-year-old jail. By state law, the county is responsible for building the jail.
George’s comments came after a presentation by Vicksburg Police Chief Walter Armstrong on the city’s costs of transporting and housing city prisoners in out-of-town jails, because there is no room at the Warren County Jail.
The majority of the city’s prisoners, Armstrong said, are charged with misdemeanors. Prisoners who are charged with felonies go to the county jail after their initial appearance in municipal court.
He told officials it has cost the city more than $1 million over the last four years to transport and house its prisoners at the Issaquena County Corrections Facility or at county jails in Copiah, Jefferson or Madison County.
Armstrong said from 2013 through 2016, the city has spent $1.137 million to transport and house prisoners; $915,854.71 of that, he said is the cost of housing and medical care for city prisoners at out-of-town jails.
The other costs include gas and vehicle maintenance and repair for the two vans used to transport the prisoners to and from jail for hearings, and the cost of keeping and feeding prisoners temporarily in the city’s holding cells.
Not included in that cost, he said, is the estimated $65,520 a year for two officers to take the prisoners back and forth to Issaquena or the other jails.
Armstrong said it costs the city $28 a day to keep prisoners at Issaquena and Copiah, $45 a day at Madison, and $20 a day to keep prisoners at Jefferson and Warren County. He said it is very rare the city is able to keep a misdemeanor prisoner at the Warren County Jail because of lack of space.
Warren County Sheriff Warren Pace said problems at the jail have forced him to house prisoners at Madison County. Pace reminded the officials once a prisoner is charged with a felony, that prisoner becomes his responsibility.
George said the supervisors are presently evaluating available sites, adding, “Hopefully, we would like to have a site secured by the end of this year.”
But he said the county is hamstrung by state law, which requires the jail be located inside the county seat, in other words, inside the Vicksburg city limits.
“There’s a lot of factors to be considered in that,” he said. “Obviously, the size of the territory we need for a facility (12 to 18 acres) to serve in the future. The county, with the responsibility of the jail, needs some latitude for site selection, because inside the municipality, when you look at available sites, you also look at zoning and historic preservation. You have to look at a lot of other things where people tell you what to do with your property.
“This is a significant project, but we’re not actually at free choice to purchase land. Before we can purchase, we’ve got to know we can use it for the intended purpose,” he said. “When the public learns you’re limited to site selection by boundary, then automatically your negotiation ability is greatly reduced.”
Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said after the meeting he would support a local and private bill allowing the county to build a jail outside the city limits if the supervisors asked.
During the meeting, however, Flaggs said if the county was not going to start on a jail within the next three to five years, the city may have to consider building its own holding facility for misdemeanor offenders.
George said the county intends to build a jail, adding he hopes the Legislature “will awaken to the fact that changes have to be made (in the law) so we can accommodate the needs of today and more important the needs of tomorrow.”
“We’re doing what we can do, and we’re in position, depending on what economic growth we may incur or not,” he said. “We’ve got to deal with it, and unfortunately, the taxpayers are going to have to deal with it. It’s going to be expensive. We have to be careful about other county projects, because this is a premium concern. Economic development is a premium concern. We’re trying to mesh this together.”


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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