PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - Jackson County Supervisors now have the green light to place temporary inmate housing at the Adult Detention Center. Last November, county residents voted down a bond issue to finance the building of a new jail.
Since that time, supervisors have been trying to find a way to address the overcrowding crisis at the jail. These temporary units faced some opposition and were not recommended by the Pascagoula Planning Commission. But, the Pascagoula City Council decided Tuesday to allow them, at least for now.
"We're, I guess for lack of a better term, between a rock and a hard spot," said District 1 Supervisor Manly Barton at the Pascagoula City Council's Tuesday meeting.
The Jackson County Board of Supervisors said they have to do something about the overcrowded Jackson County jail, and they have to do it fast.
Attorneys for the county told Pascagoula officials Tuesday the urgency has escalated. They said the county faces possible federal action from a prisoner rights attorney and a possible change in insurance coverage as the result of an ongoing insurance inspection.
"The hand we are dealt right now could not win a poker game," said Paula Yancey, attorney for the Board of Supervisors. "And we are trying to save the taxpayers of this county millions and millions of dollars."
The county's immediate answer to the problem is to place 150 nonviolent inmates in portable jail facilities, commonly known as jail pods, while they come up with a permanent solution for a new jail.
County officials have been considering different portable units, but whether they could actually put them to use depended on the Pascagoula City Council.
The jail is inside the Pascagoula city limits. Citizens have adamately opposed the city as a site for a new jail, a major sticking point in November's jail bond issue.
To put portable units on the property, the county would need a zoning exception from Pascagoula.
City Councilman Robert Stallworth, whose ward includes the jail, was against the zoning exception for the jail pods.
"Put one in your ward, one in my ward, one in your ward, and see how you like it," Stallworth said to the other councilmen.
Representatives from the citizen's group, Citizens to Relocate the Jail, which was very active in the months leading up to the November vote, also spoke against the jail pods.
"I see that as a back door fix, regardless of the circumstances," said Tyres Autrey to the council. "If they're forced to be put in a position to alleviate the matter without pods, then we can put it [a new jail] in a secluded area where it needs to be, and this matter will go away."
The city council heard arguments from both sides and asked plenty of questions of their own, particularly concering how long the units would be in place. Then they granted the exception by a 5-2 vote. Councilmen Robert Stallworth and Jim Milstead both opposed.
"The city's position on this is we're going to follow the law," City Attorney Eddie Williams said. "As the attorney general has articulated that law, a municipality cannot enforce its ordinances in such a way that it will deny a governmental entity to do that which is statutorily required to do."
County supervisors said they hope to get the portable units on jail property and in service very soon.