Federal Deadline Passes For Jail Overcrowding Problem

Harrison County faced a May first federal court deadline for reducing inmate overcrowding at the county jail.

That mandate ordered the county to trim the inmate population to 760 prisoners.

But the attorney overseeing the federal order says he's seeking a three month extension because of progress the county has made toward that goal.

"Two months ago we were averaging over a thousand inmates a day. And last Friday we were down to 796," said warden Donald Cabana, as he discussed the federal court deadline.

Cabana credits a "team effort" for helping reduce the inmate population significantly. The challenge is finding long term solutions.

"I think we have to work hard frankly to get below 760. Because what happens is that you got to have some breathing room. And what we really have to work towards and continue to do is to get down close to the 700 mark," says the warden.

The transfer of some state and federal inmates helped lower the count. A long term answer might include expanding the lock-up.

"Even with our very best efforts, at some point in time, expansion is something we'll have to talk about. And that's not unusual," Cabana said.

"The best way we thought we could help as prosecutors and the courts is to process them through as quickly as we can," said District Attorney Cono Caranna.

The D.A. says that was accomplished by adding a full time public defender.

"The public defenders there who provided an added margin of preparedness on their part. It has really helped move things more quickly. Through not only the courts, but also identifying those cases that can be pled earlier," he explained.

Attorney Ron Welch, who oversees the federal order to reduce overcrowding, told WLOX News he considered giving Harrison County a six month extension, but decided on three months instead because of two serious problems which remain: jail staffing concerns and locks that don't work. Those are problems Welch says could potentially lead to catastrophe.

The warden is aware of and working on both staffing and lock problems, while keeping a close eye on that goal of 760.

"That's the limit imposed by the court. I think as long as we're showing a good faith effort and we're in that neighborhood, I think we'll be okay," said Cabana.

Attorney Ron Welch is a prisoners' advocate based in Jackson. He's been helping the Justice Department oversee the Harrison County Jail for several year. Welch will appear before county supervisors May 14th to discuss the ongoing concerns.