Grand jury report outlines issues at county facilities
A grand jury report released in March offers recommendations for issues in the County’s Criminal Justice Center, and raises concerns about security cameras and personnel. The grand jury met from October 2019 to February 2020. Some of the issues the report addresses have since been resolved.
Criminal Justice Center, Personnel
The report states that the department “urgently need more personnel,” including correctional officers, deputies and investigators.
Pearl River County Sheriff David Allison said he is satisfied with the amount of personnel currently in the department. The department even eliminated two positions last year due to a decrease in the jail population.
“We could use more deputies and investigators. I would agree with the report on that, but it all comes down to dollars and cents,” said Allison.
More personnel could help the department reduce its caseload and be more proactive, said Allison, and could be helpful on the corrections side for safety issues, but he does not believe the county has the funds to hire more personnel.
“It is needed, but until the county gets more industry to where they have more money to give people, I kind of see it staying like it is,” he said.
County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin said the Pearl River County Board of Supervisors approves budget requests for the Sheriff’s Department, but allows the sheriff to construct his budget.
Allison disagreed with a recommendation that another staff member should be in the guard tower because he said the person at that post has access to a radio to request assistance. He also disagreed with the report’s recommendation that more than one person be in the control room monitoring jail activity.
Allison said the issue with having more than one person in either of those spaces was that staff members tend to get distracted by the other person. Allison said the control room could seem overwhelming, with the many different camera views, but said when staff are properly trained they see incidents that are out of the ordinary quickly.
The report states that “inmates need more than 20 minutes of outdoor time.” State inmates are required to have an hour of outdoor time, said Allison. County inmates are given 20 to 30 minutes of outdoor time.
Allison said that is due to the number of inmates in the facility. Since not all county inmates can be outdoors at the same time, 20 to 30 minutes is the longest period staff can provide while watching all of the inmates.
The report also states the jail needs fire safety rules in place for staff to move inmates from one fire or smoke zone to another in a safe and timely manner. Allison said he was not sure what the report was referring to, because the jail has a fire safety plan that is practiced quarterly via drills.
In the fire safety plan, inmates are either told to go through the normal dorm entrance or a fire safety door, both of which lead them to the exercise yard and away from the building, said Allison.
The report recommends a camera be installed in the medical room used for suicide watch and says that security cameras need updating, especially in the outdoor recreation area.
Lumpkin said that the county has spent $20,000 to install new security cameras at the jail and rewire cameras, and some were being installed last week—after the grand jury completed their report. Currently there are over 100 cameras in the jail, said Lumpkin.
Allison said the two rooms used for suicide watch now have security cameras.
The report states that issues with the air conditioning units need to be addressed and that the lunchroom is extremely hot.
Prior to October, the county spent $12,000 to replace two of the air conditioning systems at the jail, said Lumpkin, so he was not sure why there would be issues with them. Allison said there are not any issues with the new air conditioning units. The dining area where classes and Bible study are held is not hot according to jail staff.
The report recommends adding a perimeter fence around the facility. Allison said he agrees that a perimeter fence around the building would make it more secure and hopes funding for that can be found one day.
The report recommends a new and additional restraint chair. Allison said the current restraint chair is old and jail staff will provide him with some quotes for an additional chair.
The report says that justice center staff need to ensure fire exits are not blocked. Allison said he is not aware of any blocked fire exits, and instructed jail staff to ensure that none are.
The report also recommends a separate area for “mental health inmates or patients awaiting transport.” Allison said he believes the report is referring to people who have been civilly committed for mental health issues or drug or alcohol addiction and are awaiting an open bed at a state hospital.
When people are committed, they have to wait in the county jail for a bed to open up at a state hospital for treatment.
There is limited space to house those people, said Allison and typically they are kept in medical until they can be transported to the hospital. Allison said it would be nice to have more space or a better place to house them, but that is also an issue with funding.
The report also recommends new books for the library. Allison said many inmates access the law library through kiosks in the dorms, but the jail also received book donations earlier in the year and always accepts donations for the law library.
The report’s recommendations for the county courthouse includes more smoke detectors, repairs to entry steps and a recommendation to make those stairs safer, repairs to water damaged ceilings, replacing florescent lights with LED lighting, a thorough check of the air conditioning system and non-slip strips on the stairs.
Lumpkin said that once county offices have moved into the County Courthouse Annex, the county plans to address those issues. Those plans include upgrading central air and heating and upgrading the building’s wiring.
Lumpkin said there are no plans to change the steps on either sides of the courthouse because it is a historic building, so he does not believe they are able to replace or significantly alter the steps. There are ADA compliant stairs at the front entrance.
The report also recommends the county purchase a separate storage facility for older court records to have capacity to retain older records, and notes that “present capacity is overwhelmed by existing facilities and is not serving the taxpayers of the facility well.”
Lumpkin said the new annex should solve issues with records storage, by providing additional space.