No vacancy: Only violent criminals need apply

Published 1:14 am Friday, July 4, 2008

Limited space at the Oktibbeha County Jail and increasing budget concerns have forced the Starkville Police Department to arrest only the city’s most violent offenders over the past month while others have remained free.

“For the last 30 days, what we’ve tried to do is only lock up people who have committed violent crimes,” Starkville Police Chief David Lindley said this week. “We spent more money than we’re allowed for prisoner subsistence and we’re trying to get money added back to the budget because our number of arrests have been far greater than we expected this year.”

The department has already surpassed its $130,000 budget for prisoner subsistence this fiscal year by roughly $25,000, Lindley said. Many of those costs have gone toward the placement of prisoners in jails outside the county.

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The Oktibbeha County Jail, where city prisoners are normally housed, has been full throughout much of the past year, Lindley said, so the department has had to pay $25-$36.50 a night for each city prisoner housed in another county’s jail.

Throw in overtime pay, increasing fuel and transportation costs, plus the loss of valuable man-hours, and Lindley admits his department is feeling the pinch.

“To say we’re in a difficult situation right now is an understatement,” he said.

As of Tuesday night, Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy George Carrithers said eight out of 82 beds in the county jail are open. He expects full capacity later this month, however, when county circuit court begins.

Carrithers doesn’t let space or budget concerns alter his policing strategy.

“We arrest them and put them wherever we have to,” he said.

During the April Oktibbeha County Circuit Court session, when the jail was full, many Starkville city prisoners were housed in Grenada for $36.50 a night. By the end of the court session, the city police department had shelled out more than $39,500, Lindley said.

A solution is in sight.

Upon Lindley’s request, aldermen this week approved a preliminary three-month contract with North Atlantic Extradition Services, which has 76 beds in the Clay County Jail. As part of the contract, the Starkville Police Department is guaranteed 15 extra beds each night at the Clay County facility at a cost of $35 per bed.

Although the cost is higher than the $25 per night charge the Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Office recently negotiated with the Choctaw County Jail, Lindley still feels NAES provides a good deal.

As part of the contract, NAES will take over transportation of prisoners to and from the Oktibbeha County Jail and courthouse. The Starkville Police Department will therefore save on fuel costs, overtime pay and man-hours spent on transportation, Lindley said. NAES also has a medical staff onsite.

Former Lowndes County Chief Deputy Tony Mulligan, who retired in 2006, is president of NAES.

Even though the initial agreement is only for three months, Lindley said he hopes a yearlong contract will be drawn up after the trial period is over.