Harrison County sheriff says time to end federal jail oversight

Harrison County's sheriff says it's high time to end nearly 16 years of federal oversight at the county jail.
Harrison County's sheriff says it's high time to end nearly 16 years of federal oversight at the county jail.

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Sheriff Melvin Brisolara says it's time to end federal oversight of the Harrison County jail.

The U.S. Justice Department intervened 16 years ago because of complaints about overcrowding and understaffing at the lock-up. Those issues have been addressed, but the federal oversight team keeps finding others.

"As you can see, it's the deputy up here, the control tower officer who has complete control of all the doors," said Warden David Sanderson, as he gave a tour of the jail facility off Seaway Road in Gulfport.

New doors and new locks were a big part of the $13 million in jail improvements in 2008.

"That was a major issue we had with the doors was the fact they were swing doors," Sheriff Brisolara explained. "So every door's been changed to a slider, which is a lot safer for the inmates and correctional staff."

The kitchen is also safer and Justice Department compliant.

"We replaced every bit of the cooking equipment down here," said the sheriff. "We completely took the floor out of this facility and replaced the floor in here to get it to comply with what justice wanted."

The sheriff said more jail staff was hired, training programs expanded and the inmate population lowered; all to comply with federal orders.

"At 16 years of this, somebody is not doing their job. This court decree should have never lasted this long. Either they aren't doing theirs or we aren't doing ours. And if it's us, then they need to come down here and run it," said Sheriff Brisolara.

The sheriff said the demands from the Justice Department team have become a moving target. Once he satisfies one area, they call for changes in another. The latest is the call for more improvements in the medical area: more mental health counselors and better treatment for inmates with AIDS.

"We increased the medical staff to try and get the medical attention that they need, but it's not a hospital here. And this is not a prison, this is short term."

The sheriff shared his frustrations with county supervisors this week.

One option: A lawsuit.

"I think that word was used. And you know, it might get to that point. We'll just have to see what the next visit brings and go from there," said the sheriff.

A team from the Justice Department visited the jail last month and will return in November.

The team does an on site inspection at the Harrison County jail twice a year. Plus, the sheriff must send detailed monthly reports to Washington.

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