House arrest program should help ease jail overcrowding

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Harrison County continues to wrestle with the problem of jail overcrowding. The latest plan that should provide some relief is a house arrest program.

The county is under a federal order to reduce overcrowding and address other problems at the adult detention center. Supervisors have agreed to spend $310,000 for the house arrest program, but the long term solution may still require a jail expansion.

"It's definitely a temporary measure that will give us some relief pretty quick here," said Sheriff Melvin Brisolara, when asked about the benefits of house arrest.

The sheriff said he'll start with 100 inmates that will qualify for house arrest rather than incarceration. Inmates confined to home will be allowed to work, but will be monitored 24-7 with a GPS device. The program should free-up 200 jail beds.

"It's a good program. I think it's really going to help us with the jail situation here. And the board apparently feels the same way, because they funded it 100 percent," Sheriff Brisolara said.

The long range solution to overcrowding will likely mean expanding the jail.  Sheriff Brisolara has proposed an $18 million expansion that will add beds and provide better booking and medical facilities.

"We can maintain the numbers that we need to maintain for awhile, but eventually we're going to run out of space," the sheriff said.

"Harrison County spent $13 million already this year without floating a bond or going up on taxes, on the renovations of the correctional facility," District 1 Supervisor Windy Swetman said.

That's part of the reason Swetman is in no hurry to finance a jail expansion.

"I can tell you I'm not in favor of any new taxes or increase in millage. We have to look at alternatives in corrections right now. And that's what we're trying to do. That's why we appropriated $310,000 yesterday to start with electronic monitoring," he said.

Although supervisors have discussed taking a jail expansion referendum to the voters, possibly as soon as November of next year, Sheriff Brisolara said he isn't convinced a referendum is necessary.

"I personally don't know why we need to do a referendum. I have not really had it explained yet why we have to do a referendum. I think this can be done on the funds we have now," said the sheriff.

The temporary "pods" outside the jail will continue to provide some relief to the overcrowding. But those temporary quarters will be gone once the lease ends in June of 2011.

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