Sheriff: Harrison County jail doesn't need expansion

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Not long ago, Sheriff Melvin Brisolara was lobbying Harrison County county supervisors for an $18 million jail expansion. Now he says there's no longer a need to build a bigger lock-up, thanks to some alternatives that are keeping the inmate count more manageable.

Sheriff Brisolara said once he got everyone involved to sit down and take a look at the issue, they found that alternatives like the new house arrest program can make a big difference.

Sheriff Brisolara said the inmate count that was 1100 to 1200 daily when he took office, is now 800 to 900 a day.

"We're finding out that we're going to be able to handle these numbers. I am totally convinced that Harrison County does not need to look into the future in building new construction for housing. We can maintain and handle the inmates that we have now," said the sheriff.

Even though the temporary "pods" will be removed this summer, those inmates can be housed at the former work center on Lorraine Cowan Road.

The sheriff gives credit to things like the house arrest program and city police departments sending fewer misdemeanor offenders to county jail.

"It was getting everyone to sit down at the table and see some alternatives and getting everyone to be willing to take care of their part, and get this thing to work. And we have seen it can be done. And I think that's the attack we need to take on this," he said.

"The only way to expand the jail right now is to raise the taxes on the tax payers of Harrison County.  I have consistently voted for three and a half years, 'No,' to do that. We're not going to put the burden on these tax payers," said Board of Supervisors President Windy Swetman.

"We're going to find alternatives to manage that inmate population. And so far we've been successful in that."

The Harrison County jail has been under the supervision of a federal court order issued by the U.S. Justice Department more than a decade ago because of the overcrowding situation. The sheriff said if things continue to improve, he's hopeful that decree can be lifted later this year.

"We have worked very hard to get where we are right now. I feel within the next few months or so, we might possibly get that court order lifted," said Sheriff Brisolara.

The sheriff wants to expand the house arrest program, which currently has 55 offenders who might otherwise be housed at the county jail.

Sheriff Brisolara is also working with the district attorney, the public defender and local judges to bring cases before the courts sooner, which can also free-up jail space.

Copyright 2011 WLOX. All rights reserved.