Jail expansion project could be done in phases, if the price is right

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Harrison County supervisors will ask Grace & Hebert Architects to develop a master plan that enlarges the county's overcrowded jail.  If the first phase of that makeover is adopted, it will create a dormitory style lock up for up to 300 prisoners.

However, there are two key question that nobody is ready to answer yet.  How much will the expansion cost?  And how will the county pay for it?

To build everything the Harrison County Adult Detention Center needs, supervisors would have to come up with nearly 22 million dollars.  That's why they're trying to break up their expansion project into phases.

"If we could just build 500 beds, great, that figure would be a lot less," Supervisor Kim Savant said during a nearly two hour workshop.

But his colleagues quickly learned that cutting costs wasn't easy, because Sheriff Melvin Brisolara said the jail needed at least two other security improvements.

"We have to expand that booking.  It's extremely too small for this facility," the sheriff said.  "The medical is extremely too small for this facility" as well, he noted.

Expanding those areas, plus adding bed space costs money.  Which is why Supervisor Windy Swetman asked the group, "How are the taxpayers of Harrison County going to be able to afford this when right now they're already on our backs over taxes that have just gone up?"

The proposal to build everything the Harrison County Adult Detention Center needs could cost Harrison County $22 million.  Despite that seemingly steep price, Sheriff Brisolara said it was imperative to spend that money, and finally bring this 22 year old complex up to federal standards.

"If we ever want to try to get that court order lifted, we've gotta start moving in the right direction," the sheriff said.

The court order was first filed in 1998, when the federal government realized Harrison County's jail was not in compliance with its regulations.

Supervisors believe adding additional bed space will likely alleviate that scrutiny.

"We just have to find a path to do that," said Swetman.

One solution was to modify the expansion.  Start with a 300 bed pod adjacent to the main lock up area, and grow from there.  Landi Phillips is part of the sheriff's administrative team.

"This is sort of phase two to replace those temporary buildings.  Because when they go away in three years, we've gotta replace those beds," he told supervisors.

The temporary buildings were erected in 2008 to house inmates while sections of the main jail were repaired.  Supervisors seemed receptive to the idea of replacing the tents with a permanent pod.  But then, the money issue surfaced again.

"For us to come back with any increase in milage, we might as well figure out what we're going to do in another two years, because we're not going to be county supervisors," said Swetman.

The Harrison County jail opened in 1987 with enough room for 760 prisoners.  However, the jail population today is right at a thousand.

That's why supervisors said that on Monday, they'd hire Grace and Hebert Architects, and have them immediately start working on jail expansion plans.

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