Harrison County sheriff pursues alternatives to incarceration

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - A proposed $18 million addition to the Harrison County jail would help ease the inmate overcrowding problem. But Sheriff Melvin Brisolara says adding 250 new beds is only part of the solution.J

He discussed other alternatives during a workshop Monday with the Board of Supervisors.

"We still have to come up with alternatives to incarceration," the sheriff told the board.

One option is a house arrest program.

"That is run by the sheriff's office. And we aren't looking at that much additional cost. 'Cause we already have like 80 percent of that in place for the house arrest. But it's live time GPS that we can look at later on. Which is a lot cheaper than incarceration," said Sheriff Brisolara.

The sheriff told supervisors he's meeting with judges and the district attorney to help get a handle on the number of offenders sent to jail.

"All the parties have to come to the table to address the issue of what the sheriff is mentioning with regard to house arrest and so on. Because if not, then that second phase expansion... 500 beds won't be enough," said Warden Don Cabanna.

"Corrections is very expensive. We don't need to be locking up people that don't really need to be locked up," Sheriff Brisolara said.

One alternative to reduce the number of inmates involves writing citations for misdemeanor offenders rather than bringing them to jail.

For example, there was a spike in the inmate numbers this past weekend because a large number of people were arrested and brought to jail. But of the 33 offenders making their initial appearance Monday morning, 15 were charged with misdemeanors.

"And you get to the point where you have to look at how many of those could have been handled with citations? How many of those could have been handled without coming to jail?" said Warden Cabanna.

The sheriff is close to moving forward with the house arrest program.

The proposed jail expansion is much less certain, with supervisors reluctant to raise taxes to pay for the facility.

Harrison County supervisors are considering a special bond issue for the proposed jail expansion. Voting on a bond referendum would let residents decide whether they're willing to pay for the $18 million jail addition.

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