Jail Overcrowding Solutions Debated By Supervisors

There's a critical issue facing Harrison County. The jail is overcrowded. And the county has two months to rectify the situation. Otherwise, Harrison County would be in violation of what could become a costly federal court order.

Marlin Ladner understands the predicament.  On Monday, he looked across the table at his fellow Harrison County supervisors and asked, "What else can we do?"

The question came during a debate about jail overcrowding. And it had a variety of potential answers.

One option that came up during the nearly one hour discussion was to get inmates who confess to crimes through the court system and onto Parchman quicker. In the audience was new public defender Glenn Rishel. He said, "These folks when they plea, it's not a get out of jail free card. You've gotta answer for your crime."

A second option was to set up a prison release program. People accused of misdemeanor crimes could wear some sort of electronic monitoring device until their trial. At Monday's meeting, supervisors were told 57 misdemeanor defendants were housed at the jail.

Option three -- get judges to set initial bonds at more reasonable levels, so defendants can bond out until their trials. Circuit Court Judge Jerry Terry participated in the supervisors discussion.

"I'm in agreement with doing whatever the whole group comes to a decision on, or meeting with any group," he said, before leaving the meeting and going back to his courtroom.

State inmates cleaning the I-110 median are at the root of the jail's overcrowding debate. If the county doesn't get rid of almost 300 prisoners, the state inmates loaned to Harrison County will be pulled out of its work center. The county and its cities could lose valuable work crews, and nearly $3,000 a day from the state.

"Which means we would then have to pay for that," Supervisor William Martin said. "And we're still going to have an overcrowding situation."

Martin has been researching possible solutions to the county's jail overcrowding dilemma. He knows Harrison County has been put on notice by prison rights attorneys. It must get down to the federally mandated 760 inmate limit by May 1. Or the county's budget will suffer.

"I think we can get the number down myself, with everybody working together," he said.

Jail consultant David Rothbart said the same thing.

However, "To get it to where it's at a manageable population, it's going to take more than a year. It's going to take quite awhile," Rothbart said. "It's going to need a lot of cooperation from the entire criminal justice system."

That cooperation starts with a meeting District Attorney Cono Caranna agreed to hold with city and county prosecutors, and local judges. The results of that meeting will be reported back to Harrison County supervisors in two weeks.

Harrison County recently set up a public defender's office. Supervisors think that once that office gets fully staffed, it will help get cases through the court system quicker, and defendants out of the Harrison County jail faster.