Harrison County will hire corrections expert to study jail problems

By Steve Phillips – bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Harrison County supervisors are still wrestling with the issue of what to do with the county jail.

The sheriff says a new medical area and booking facility are badly needed.  Supervisors are concerned about cost and asking voters to pay for any expansion.

Jail overcrowding and other problems at the adult detention facility have plagued supervisors for years. On Wednesday, the warden told the board, from a design standpoint, the existing jail is one of the "biggest abominations" he's ever seen.

It's a complicated issue and one that may have left more questions than answers at the morning workshop.

"Nothing has ever been done in the 20 years to improve the booking area or the medical area," said Sheriff Melvin Brisolara. "We're processing 27,000 inmates a year in and out of that facility. And those two areas are just not adequate for the times today."

The sheriff said while adding more bed space would be nice, the Justice Department is demanding improved medical and booking facilities.

"If we don't require housing right now, if we can get by without the housing, then I think that will save the taxpayers some money for awhile," Supervisor Kim Savant said.

"For every dollar we spend, we better make some headway on this deal, and not be right back four or five years from now talking about the same thing and needing millions of dollars," Supervisor Marlin Ladner said.

"But at the end of the day, the taxpayer has got the tax man, that's us, on his back," Supervisor Windy Swetman said. "And we've got to do something to make sure if we have options, we better explore every one of them."

Supervisor Swetman prefers exploring alternatives, like building a misdemeanor center.

"If we remove misdemeanors from that 'maximum security' facility and have a misdemeanor facility, that is a greater lower cost to operate and function. We clear up our booking issue right away," he said.

After listening to supervisors and jail architects at the meeting, the warden said what the county needs is an outside expert.

"I don't think the architects or the construction people can sit down and tell us, here's what we're going to do, until they have a study from a corrections person that says, here's what the numbers show and here's how you need to be able to accommodate it in your facility," Warden Cabana said.

Supervisors agreed with the warden's recommendation to hire an expert consultant. They directed the board attorney to work with Warden Cabana and bring a recommendation to the board at its December 14th meeting.

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