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Jail overcrowded, again

Last year’s problem of jail overcrowding has yet to be remedied but a state inmate building slated to be built by August is touted to remedy the problem.

Nine months ago Pearl River County’s jail responded to a notice that they need to have a facility built to house their state inmates. That new facility was planned to be built in 2007, but has been pushed back to August of this year.

Construction of the state inmate building will provide 75 beds for those inmates, opening up that many beds for county inmates.

County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin said the hold up on the building derived from stipulations the county had to meet to receive a USDA grant. The grant will pay for half of the cost of the near $600,000 facility.

“There were just a lot of stipulations in the application we had to get done,” Lumpkin said.

Now that the county has been approved for the $297,000 grant, construction of the building should be completed in less than the six months, the time limit set by the court order, Lumpkin said. Dirt work on the addition is under way and the tentative completion date for the building is August 1.

Once the building is complete the court order limiting the jail capacity to 360 inmates will be lifted allowing the jail to house more inmates.

State inmate attorney Ronald Reid Welch said the jail had been running at a capacity above their current limit of 360 for the past month. So he sent notification to Sheriff David Allison to bring that count down. Allison expects the jail population to be down 345 to 350 by the end of the week, which will make room for more inmates. According to the reports the office sent Welch, he said the current count of the jail is about 352 as of Wednesday.

“That allows us to make arrests if we need to do some arrests,” Allison said.

To keep the population low Allison said the department will do head counts will be done on a daily basis and move to post arrests for some misdemeanor charges. Post arrests will result in citations where suspects will simply report to court for their offense.

Welch began the order because he was notified that due to the overcrowding some of the prisoners were sleeping on the floor and going without clothes and sanitary items. For the past month there was an average 408 prisoners in the jail’s population, Welch said. Lumpkin said the jail was designed for 410 beds but can hold more. Allison said the jail has about 435 beds.

Welch said if the overcrowding continues, for any given day, then state inmates will be pulled from Pearl River County’s jail. Some state inmates provide extra labor for the county in the form of trustee workers.

Pearl River County’s jail has been housing Hancock County inmates since Hurricane Katrina. Allison said about 100 of Hancock County’s inmates are being held at Pearl River County’s jail.

“We could be in the same boat, so we don’t mind helping them,” Allison said.

In response to the court order Hancock was called and asked to help reduce the population. Hancock County Sheriff’s Department Chief Administrator Donald Cuevas said they moved about 20 inmates out to other accommodations. Ten of those inmates were moved to state facilities. Another seven were picked up by the ICE division since they were suspected to be illegal aliens, Cuevas said. Three of those inmates were able to bond out or were released through other court proceedings.

Hancock county is in the process of building their own jail, but construction is being held back, Cuevas said. Hancock’s new jail construction is awaiting approval of the funding they have applied for.

They are looking to build a 600 inmate jail, 300 for county related inmates and the remaining 300 to house state inmates, Cuevas said. However they are still waiting for federal certification to be approved for the 300 state inmates. Tentatively the county has been approved for about $40 million to build the jail they want. They are awaiting approval from HUD.

If they are not approved for the state inmates the jail could be limited to 200 to 300 inmates, Cuevas said.

Lumpkin said the county has received a proposal from a company to take over management of the jail. Pearl River County’s board of supervisors have taken the proposal under consideration based upon the cost to the county as opposed to the cost they currently pay to run it.