Supervisors vote to release RFP for new Warren County Jail design

Published 6:12 pm Friday, April 8, 2022

The Warren County Board of Supervisors voted on Monday to release the request for design proposals for a new county jail on U.S. 80.

The current jail is not meeting the demands of Warren County, Sheriff Martin Pace said, and a new facility is long past due. The current facility was originally built in 1907 and received its last major upgrade in 1977.

“The inner workings of the jail are beyond their years of use. They have worn out,” Pace said.

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Currently, the county jail has 128 beds. However, only 92 of those beds are useable due to the aging infrastructure.

Pace said it amounts to entire cellblocks that are out of use. Most recently, a Warren County man charged with first-degree murder had to be held in the Claiborne County jail due to a lack of space in the Warren County Jail.

“I have two cellblocks that we can’t use. We have a 20-bed block upstairs, that we can’t use for security reasons due to malfunctions with a locking system that’s 50 years old,” Pace said. “I have a 16-bed block downstairs that I can’t use because the plumbing literally fell out from under the cell. These are clay pipes that have been there since the early 1900s. The cost of repairing that is phenomenal.”

The need to separate inmates based on certain criteria also affects the number of beds that can be used. For example, Pace explained that the department cannot commingle misdemeanor and felony inmates. As a result, the jail has not been able to house inmates charged with misdemeanor offenses for years. Instead, Warren County is having to pay other counties to house those inmates.

Pace said the lack of capacity is costing the county and his department both money and manpower.

“We are currently housing inmates in three other counties. And of course, we’re having to pay those counties to house the inmates,” he said. “Not to mention the transportation cost and logistics of having to travel to another county.”

Deputies currently have to transport inmates to and from the Warren County Courthouse and jails in other counties for court hearings.

However, Pace said he has been advising the Warren County Board of Supervisors on what the new facility would require to meet current and future demands on the county. He has also been bringing the board members to tour facilities that have features he believes would be necessary to have in the new facility.

Pace says the new facility would need a capacity of 300 to 350 people. Those figures are based on a study commissioned by the Warren County Board of Supervisors in 2008, which looked at long-term planning goals and the construction of a new facility.

A more modern layout of the cellblocks would also be preferable, according to Pace. The current facility has a ‘linear cellblock’ design, meaning the cells are lined up along a hallway. The design was commonplace when the jail was originally built more than 100 years ago, but improved layouts have since been implemented in other newer facilities.

Pace explained the need for an “open bay” design in the new facility from both a security and a maintenance standpoint.

“Picture a gymnasium with all the cells off to the sides,” he said. “So from the center of the court, you can see, hear and smell everything going on in each cell.”

The current “linear cellblock” layout results in a guard having to walk down the hallway to see into each cell individually.

Pace also said the increased capacity would allow for the reintroduction of programs that have not been able to operate since the jail reached capacity. These include life skills programs, a GED program and a road clean-up program that can use detainees the Department of Corrections has classified as “very minimal risk.”

Pace said he is also hopeful that the current jail, located across the street from the Warren County Courthouse, would still serve administrative purposes for the Sheriff’s Department, including the offices for the Sheriff, the investigators and records.

“If your grandmother needs to come to pick up a report that a deputy took, she would be able to come to the downtown location instead of having to go east of Vicksburg on Highway 80,” he said.

Pace said he believes the Board of Supervisors understands the necessity for the Sheriff’s Office to maintain a footprint downtown, and all the benefits maintaining that location would bring.

The RFP that was voted to be released is not yet available to the public, pending attorney review.

When it is released, the supervisors will be able to start taking proposals for the design phase of the project.