Plans for Jackson County jail could be on the way

By Sylvia Hall - bio | email

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - Overcrowding at the Jackson County Adult Detention Center has only increased since last November when citizens voted down a bond issue to fund a new jail.

"I think pretty soon we're going to be moving forward with the jail project," District 1 Supervisor Manly Barton said Monday.

As this year's board president, Barton isn't talking specifics yet. But he said the county is close to finding a way to fund the new jail.

"We've been working on this really hard," Barton said. "We wanted to get through this budget cycle to find out exactly where we were going to be millage-wise, so that we could continue providing the services we provide and build the jail without a tax increase. And we believe we can still do that."

Supervisors know they must do this.  The aging and overpopulated jail was built to house little more than 70 inmates.  Renovation increased capacity, but the inmate population continues to rise, making the jail harder to manage.

"We are in a situation where we need to do something pretty quick, simply because we have no more space," Sheriff Mike Byrd said.

The Jackson County Adult Detention Center has just under 300 beds, but Sheriff Byrd said Monday more than 400 inmates were held behind ADC walls.  He said they've done all they can do to try to free up some space in the jail, but the problem keeps getting worse.

"We want to make sure that our officers are safe. We want to make sure that our inmates are safe, and we certainly want to make sure the public is safe," Byrd said.

Harrison County recently adopted a house arrest program to alleviate overcrowding.  Byrd said he's not in favor of Jackson County following suit.

"A house arrest program would not work here," Byrd said.  "Simply because misdemeanors and everything like that; as soon as they're [inmates are] out, they're out.  So these [current inmates] are people that are waiting to go to trial.  These are people whose bonds have been revoked because they've committed another crime once they were out on bond on a previous charge.  No, I don't want violent offenders out on the street."

The proposed location of the new jail, on Telephone Road in Pascagoula, contributed to the bond failure in November.  Supervisors said they have considered other locations, but none were suitable for the project.

"The vote that was taken in November really had to do with the way the jail would be financed, not necessarily the location," Barton said.  "And we're still in that location and trying to go forward with a financing plan that would allow us to build the jail."

Supervisors said safety is the biggest reason to build a new jail, but it's not the only reason.

"I don't think we have a choice there," Barton said.  "If we don't build a jail, then the federal court's going to tell us to build a jail."

©2009 WLOX. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.