Inmate trash pickup pitched to Warren County Supervisors — but it won’t happen without a new jail

Published 6:28 pm Wednesday, September 13, 2023

A total of 66 counties in Mississippi participate in MDOT’s Inmate Litter Removal Program, and Warren County could be added to that number — but not until the new county jail is complete.

As part of the Mississippi Department of Transportation’s “Don’t Trash Mississippi” anti-litter campaign, Central District Transportation Commissioner Willie Simmons pitched the idea of inmate litter pickups to the Warren County Board of Supervisors this week.

“Last week, we got the sheriff in Hinds County to do a (memorandum of understanding) with (MDOT) and their inmates have started picking up trash on the interstate system. That’s very helpful,” Simmons said. “And just to make you aware of it, it’s a much better thing for (MDOT) because we have increased the amount of money that we give and, in Warren County, you have both the sheriff’s department and the Vicksburg Police Department.”

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If both the City of Vicksburg and Warren County entered the Inmate Litter Program, each entity could receive $50,000 from MDOT for the purpose of using state inmates to pick up litter on Interstate 20 and on any state highways in the area – a combined $100,000 investment.

“What we do is, we give you $50,000 and you can pay for someone to supervise offenders if you have offenders picking trash up,” Simmons said. “We also can give you a truck and a trailer to be utilized through that, and we provide the bags and everything you’d need to pick the trash up.

“It’s a good program to try to keep Mississippi beautiful,” he added.

Here’s the Hangup

The program sounds great, Sheriff Martin Pace said Wednesday, but there’s one tiny problem: No facility in Warren County is certified to house state inmates.

Following the Gates v. Collier ruling, which set standards for inmate treatment and housing in all detention facilities in the state, the current Warren County Jail was ultimately deemed unfit to house state inmates. The 128 inmates currently housed at the jail are all pre-trial inmates, Pace said, meaning they have not been formally convicted.

“If you haven’t been convicted, you can’t be walking around in public,” Pace said.

The new Warren County Jail will be certified to house state inmates in a “trusty block,” he said, and those inmates will be permitted to participate in state work programs.

“I think the state-county inmate work program is an excellent program and one that I wish Warren County could enter into now,” Pace said. “Unfortunately, the current jail does not meet the minimum standards required by the Mississippi Department of Corrections to house inmates for such a program. The new jail will, by design, be capable of housing inmates for this program (should the county decide to opt in) and I look forward to the day when we can move into this new facility.”

Board President Kelle Barfield said the need for a new county jail does not stem from a desire to participate in programs like the inmate litter program.

“The need to build a new jail stems from the status of portions of the current facility dating back more than a century,” Barfield said. “While a new jail may change the eligibility of inmates to comply with requirements of programs such as this, our efforts to construct a new jail were not motivated by this specific program.”