Federal order overseeing Harrison County jail could end soon

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Unsafe conditions at the Harrison County jail prompted the federal Department of Justice to step-in and direct jail operations. That was 16 years ago. That's how long the county jail has been under the federal government's direction.

But the sheriff is confident that may be ending soon. And the issue was discussed at Tuesday's board of supervisors meeting.

Millions of dollars have been spent on jail improvements to try and erase deficiencies and satisfy the federal order. A team from the justice department will tour the jail next week.

That's why Sheriff Melvin Brisolara pleaded with county leaders to fund an increase in supervisory staff at the jail.

It's the dark cloud that's hung over the Harrison County jail since 1995.  The federal government controls the operation of this lock-up.

"It's time Harrison County takes control of that jail back, and we run it ourselves the way we feel fit for Harrison County. But we can't do that until we get justice out of the way," said Sheriff Brisolara.

That's why the sheriff pleaded with county supervisors for roughly $3600 to pay for four additional supervisory positions at the jail.

"I'm trying to keep it at the kind of level it was when justice left six months ago, to where we aren't down, so they'll see that we have maintained that level of supervisors and also personnel," he said.

Supervisors have kept a close check on the sheriff's spending, especially given the tight budgets affecting all county departments.

"The one issue that kind of trumps that right now is with the justice department coming back," said board president Windy Swetman. "We don't want to have any deficiency that we didn't have before."

The attorney for the board of supervisors, Tim Holleman, is quite familiar with the legalities of the jail operation meeting those requirements of the federal court decree.

He, too, believes the county could be getting close to relieving itself of that federal oversight.

"There's been great progress made over the years with the jail, and we're hopeful that with the progress that's been made, the consent decree will be resolved," said Holleman.

"I think we are really getting down to the end of this thing. We need to end it," said the sheriff.

In the past four years, Harrison County has spent some $13 million in various jail improvements.

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