Jail Scores High On Audit Despite Overcrowding

Addressing a room full of jail staff and administrators, Harrison County Sheriff George did a little bragging.

"You people have scored with this team 97.1 in a building that is severely overcrowded. God will bless you for that," he said.

And it may take some divine intervention to find a way to free up space in the county jail. Too many prisoners is a challenge that Sheriff Payne has faced since he took office.

While praising the staff and the jail operations, overcrowding is the biggest flaw that caught the attention of auditors from the American Corrections Association.

"You are awfully crowded. It not only affects the quality of life, it makes it more difficult for the staff to do the job that they need to do. You have a good physical plant, but it's not built for this many people," auditor Robert Conley said.

The jail was built to hold 760 inmates. But no one can remember when the number was anywhere near that. The daily prisoner count averages 1,000.

"We've got to find more sensible, smart ways to lock up some of these people," Payne said.

The sheriff says to do that means moving more than 200 misdemeanor prisoners from the main jail into another building.

"We need to find a less expensive way to lock up our misdemeanor prisoners than in this maximum security type institution, and that's the plan we're working on."

In August, the sheriff will meet with a panel in Baltimore, Maryland. The panel will review the findings of this week's jail inspection to determine if the jail will be re-accredited for another three years.