Harrison County Needs New Jailers

Harrison County is looking for a few good men and women to help oversee inmates at the county jail.

Sheriff George Payne and county supervisors have agreed to hire 50 new jailers in the next two years.

The move is in response to ongoing pressure from the federal Department of Justice which began demanding jail improvements nearly nine years ago. Everyone agrees the jail is understaffed. The challenge now is finding the money to hire the new guards.

Following federal guidelines of one guard for every five inmates, the jail should have 180 jailers for the 900 inmates housed there. Right now, the lock up employs just 85 guards.

Sheriff George Payne says hiring 50 new jailers represents a significant step in resolving the federal government's concerns.

"And they've agreed to work with us. We're going to work with them now. We're going to hire 25 jailers this year. Twenty five next year. And I hope within the next couple years we're going to see this consent decree go away," said Sheriff Payne.

Finding the money for additional guards is the biggest obstacle now. The county and the sheriff will split the 750 thousand dollar cost of hiring the first 25 new jailers.

"Do some belt tightening. I've got to come up with 375 thousand out of my budget. And it's going to be tough to do. I really don't know where but we're going to get it all. We're going to find a way to get it done because the citizens want us to get it done. We're going to get it done," Payne promises.

The county must also scramble to find the money.

"One thing we don't want in this county, we don't want the federal government to come in and run our jail for us. It's a local issue and one we should have control of and should always control," waid supervisor Larry Benefield.

Since the federal government began its oversight of this facility back in 1995, the county has spent some three and a half million dollars on capital improvements, things like new equipment and enhanced security. Adding the new jail officers is the final step in satisfying the federal government's demands.

"It's a very positive step for the citizens of Harrison County," said the sheriff.