Deputy Jacent Gregory started as a corrections officer in the Harrison County jail two years ago. He didn't have a lot of co-workers. "We'd be lucky to have a nine man team at a time on the staff a day. Now we have up to staff, it's 26, up to 26 to staff the jail, each shift."
That's a far cry from when Sheriff George Payne took office five years ago. "When we took over we had maybe 85 officers on duty. It was dangerous. We now have acceptable staffing levels for the number of people we have in the jail."
With 165 officers watching over an average of a thousand people, the guard/prisoner ratio has greatly improved. "Our safe operating level's around 760 so we've still go problems but this is one check in the box and if we had not done it we would not be the only accredited jail in Mississippi and now we are," says Payne.
The sheriff says the feds have noticed the efforts to make the jail safer and now Payne says he has another challenge to overcome. "We've done everything that Justice has asked us to do except get our numbers down as far as overcrowding and we have a strategic plan to work on that." Details on that plan aren't final but it involves moving the misdemeanor prisoners out of the jail and into a separate building to free up more space.
The sheriff's budget, at nearly $21 million is the biggest in the county. Sheriff Payne says he will use the $750,000 he's getting this year to pay jail officer salaries.