HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - The rising cost of running a jail sparked some lively discussion at Monday's Harrison County Board of Supervisors meeting. At issue is what the county charges the cities to house inmates at the county jail.
The daily cost of housing and feeding an inmate at the Harrison County jail is $78. Yet, for many years, the cities have paid the county just $25 to house prisoners.
"We have got to come up with a way to get this more equitable as far as the cost of these prisoners. If there's a way to get some of these prisoners on house arrest or the ankle bracelets or whatever, if that will help us, let's do it," said Supervisor Beverly Martin.
Compounding the issue is the growing number of inmates. Built to house just 750 prisoners, Monday's count was 931.
"Not so much that crime has increased, arrests have increased. And because of that, they have that limbo spot where a lot of these are off bonded. They had a felony prior to being arrested a second time, so they're in jail just sitting there right now, doing nothing, just taking dead time," said Sheriff Troy Peterson.
At a budget meeting last week, supervisors voted to double the amount the cities pay from $25 per inmate per day to $50.
"There's been an increase in the jail population, and there's costs with that. You were trying to cover that cost strictly on the burden of the cities," said Supervisor Marlin Ladner. "When you doubled the price, that's what you did."
Several city police chiefs attended the meeting to voice their concern about doubling the amount cities are charged. Gulfport Police Chief Leonard Papania said it's not just about money.
"So, as you contemplate this and you go into these discussions, let's not get hung up in strictly numbers, and let's remember that it has to do with the quality of life people demand," Papania told the board.
Supervisors agreed to meet later this week with police chiefs, mayors, and the district attorney to discuss the issue further.
At the start of the discussion, supervisors voted to rescind the earlier vote that doubled the fees. Board attorney Tim Holleman told board members they needed to provide the cities 30 days notice for any change in that agreement.