City may build holding facility to cut costs of transporting prisoners

Published 4:38 pm Sunday, January 14, 2018


While the Warren County Board of Supervisors wrestles with finding a suitable location for a new jail, Mayor George Flaggs Jr. is considering the possibility of a city jail to house misdemeanor prisoners and felony offenders awaiting their initial appearance in court.

Flaggs in November appointed a five-member committee “to look at the construction, design and operation of a jail/holding facility inside the city or outside the county seat of Warren County,” but said the city’s interest in a possible municipal jail is not tied the county’s search for a new facility.

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“It has nothing to do with the county,” he said. “If the county’s not going to build anything to accommodate the municipality, we’re going to have to have it any way.

“Our issue is being complicated by the county, because we don’t have that space in the county (jail). We’ve got to do something regardless, because we have to hold misdemeanors. All I want to do is assist the board of supervisors if they need us.”

Flaggs and South Ward Alderman Alex Monsour have said they oppose the supervisors’ decision to put the proposed new jail at the Ceres Industrial Park.

Flaggs sent a letter signed by him and Monsour to the supervisors, the Warren County Port Commission and the Vicksburg-Warren Chamber of Commerce indicating they would not agree to any local bill to locate the jail more than 1 mile outside the city limits unless the city had input in the decision.

The reason for considering a separate facility, Flaggs said, is to reduce the city’s cost of sending its prisoners to the Issaquena County Correctional Facility.

All prisoners arrested by police for misdemeanors or on felony charges are taken to Issaquena because there is no room for them at the Warren County Jail. Felony prisoners are sent to the Warren County Jail after their initial appearance. Misdemeanor prisoners serving jail time stay at Issaquena.

The city pays Issaquena $28 per inmate per day to hold city prisoners. According to information from the Vicksburg Police Department, the city averages between $15,000 to $17,000 per month to hold prisoners at Issaquena.

The trip to and from Vicksburg to the facility to either book prisoners in jail or pick them up for court takes 2 1/2 hours round trip. It costs the city $30,000 per year in officer pay and $25,000 to $28,000 per year in gas to send officers to Issaquena to pickup prisoners and return them to the jail during the three court days, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. If three or more prisoners are being transported, two officers are used.

“All I want is to be able to reduce the cost of holding inmates and reduce the traveling,” Flaggs said. “It’s becoming unsafe to continue to go up to Issaquena. It’s creating a problem and costing us more than it’s worth. We’re looking at an option, that’s all.”

Flaggs said he is considering a facility that would accommodate a maximum of 35 prisoners and be operated by a private company. A possible site would be the rear of the police department, which is now a parking lot.

He said he is waiting on the committee to make a recommendation on the cost to build it. No date has been set for the committee to report. Police Chief Milton Moore said the committee toured the Copiah County Jail Jan. 5.

“We were on a fact-finding tour, I think we saw what we needed to see,” he said.

North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield and Monsour agree something needs to be done about housing city prisoners.

“I do agree, because of where we’re at with jail space now, and what’s been happening lately, we need some sort of jail,” Monsour said.

Mayfield said the city needs to act soon, adding the committee’s recommendation “is something we’re seriously going to have to look at, because it’s costing us big time.”

He said the board will have to consider the effect and cost of regulations regarding building and operating a jail.

“You just don’t go putting 25 people in a room and hold them for hours,” he said. “You must meet regulations, because you’re going to have misdemeanors and possibly felons.

“We’ll just have to look at this thing and hopefully come up with something that’s good for this city. It’s all about trying to be more frugal with the money, and you want to be careful … It could leave you up the river in a boat without a paddle.”

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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