Sheriff Says Board's Jail Overcrowding Reduction Idea Illegal

Harrison county supervisors say its time to keep some convicted criminals out of the county jail. However, sheriff George Payne says that just won't happen. On Monday Supervisors passed a resolution asking the sheriff not to accept those convicted of misdemeanors who haven't paid their fines.

It was Supervisor William Martin who made the motion in part because of meetings last week on jail privatization. The three companies interested in running the Harrison County jail. All expressed concerns about extreme overcrowding.

"We have 978 in the main facility," a sheriff's department representative told the board.

The continuing over crowding in Harrison County jail convinced. the board of supervisors unanimously agree to ask the Sheriff to get those numbers down by keeping some would be prisoners out.

Supervisor William Martin said "We believe that we have a very serious situation with overcrowding at the jail and if we don't have to have them out there. We don't need them out there."

The jail is built to safely hold 760 prisoners. Sheriff George Payne says the supervisors request would have little effect on the population count.

"We're managing our inmate misdemeanor population very well," said Sheriff Payne. "You know a year and a half to two years ago we were around 175, 200 a day. Through alternatives we've got that down to about 100 a day. That 100 is pretty bad people usually. Our biggest problem here is not the misdemeanors, it's the pre-trial felons, the bad people, the dangerous people."

Sheriff Payne believes not arresting people who don't pay their fines would do more harm than good.

"When you start putting caps on jails, and when you start letting word get out that you won't lock up certain people just because they won't pay their fine, your crime rate is going to go up," he said. "Number 2, the attitude of the police always changes historically, and we can't let that happen. I'm not going to let that happen."

The sheriff says he won't follow the supervisors' lead it's against the law.

He said "By statute, very plainly the law states, if a judge issues a court order to incarcerate someone I have to accept that person. I'm going to continue to do it. If you break the law, you need to go to jail bottom line."

Supervisor Bobby Eleutarius says he'd like more city judges consider house arrest as a way to reduce the misdemeanor jail population.   Also brought up at the meeting, whether there needs to be a renegotiation for the fees the county charges cities for housing inmates. Supervisor William Martin says cities pay about about $15 a day per inmate. The cost to the county is more than $36 dollars a day.