Counties building regional jails to fix inmate crowding issues

Published 5:15 pm Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Five new jail facilities and one extension are in the works which could add more than 1,500 beds across the state.

By April 2009, more than 1,500 beds in regional jails scattered across the state are expected to open, Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps said.

The facilities and extension could cost a combined total of more than $55 million, Epps said.

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The new beds would increase the total number of inmate beds to 4,600 in 16 regional jails.

“We are growing around 1,000 inmates a year, and we need a place to put them,” Epps said. “Like it or not, it helps the counties, too.”

Epps said counties can run the regional jails cheaper than the state can do it.

“The staff is new, so they make less than my staff and you know, your biggest cost is always going to be staff. I don’t care what kind of business you have,” Epps said.

The state spends nearly $30 per inmate per day plus medical expenses at the Medicaid rate to house prisoners at regional jails. Usually, the money at first is used to pay off the construction debt. Though regional jails house state inmates, many counties choose to add a wing to house county inmates as well.

Alcorn County Sheriff Jimmy Taylor said his county needs a regional jail to help alleviate crowding in the cramped county jail. Site preparation is currently being done on a facility in Alcorn County that will hold 300 state prisoners and 150 county inmates.

“The jail we’re in now was built in 1974 and can only house 48 people,” Taylor said. “That’s just not enough. This was a way to get what the county needed at little or no cost.”

In Chickasaw County a regional jail is being built because of economic development, Sheriff Jimmy Simmons said.

“We’re in the heart of furniture country up here and with the way that’s been going — well, it’s just no good to put all of your eggs in one basket,” he said.

Chickasaw County’s regional jail will have 300 beds that will join onto a 148-bed county jail.

The state’s 11 regional jails stay near or at capacity on most days, according to population counts. A regional jail with the maximum capacity 300 beds for state inmates, can generate more than $3.25 million a year.

A regional jail typically creates up to 50 jobs, Epps said.

Hinds County supervisors are trying to get a site for a regional jail approved next to the detention center. Washington and Yazoo counties have sites for regional jails already approved by the Department of Corrections.

Kemper County’s existing regional facility is getting a 75-bed extension for female state prisoners.

Epps said officials from Claiborne and Harrison Counties have also inquired about getting approval from lawmakers to build regional jails. Legislative approval is required before a county can build a regional jail. After lawmakers sign off, the Corrections Department oversees the building process.