Hancock County Making Do With Temporary Jail

The future of the storm damaged Hancock County jail is uncertain. Sheriff Steve Garber says engineers are still trying to figure out if the jail can be saved. Right now, most prisoners are being housed in Pearl River County, but Hancock County has come up with another way of keeping offenders under lock and key.

Hancock County's make-shift jail can hold up to eight prisoners, but most of the people who end up there don't spend much time there.

"We're booking in people when they are arrested here," said Sheriff Garber. "If it's a misdemeanor crime, we try to bond them out within 12 or 14 hours. If that's not possible, then we transport them to Pearl River County's jail."

The good news, Garber says, is that crime seems to be down. Jailers say that's made the 8 x 40 holding cell an effective short term solution.

Andy Lakey has been a jailer for two years.

"Since Katrina, obviously we're in a little smaller facility than we were before. But actually there doesn't seem to be as much traffic through here as there once was."

Women are not allowed to stay. Neither are the most dangerous offenders.

"Basically this is our non-violent offenders - DUIs, public drunk, simple assault or something like that. But if it's a murder or rape, they're not even going to stop here. They're going to go straight to the facility in Pearl River County," Garber said.

Since the storm, the sheriff has moved operations to the Kiln. Garber says he would like the county to consider making the move permanent.

"One thing I did put into the jail situation is that if we do have to relocate the jail that we could look at coming around I-10 and Highway 603 where we could be on higher ground and really put it in the center of the county," he said. "There's not a lot of population in there, and let's face it, nobody really wants a jail in their backyard."

Sheriff Steve Garber says along with the lack of parking and office space, he would like to see the jail relocated because of safety concerns for the staff and inmates. Katrina dumped three feet of water in the jail.

Currently, there are about 50 Hancock County prisoners at the Pearl River County Jail. The sheriff says Hancock County is paying $30 a day per inmate. That's roughly the same as before the storm, so the only added expense has been transporting the prisoners.