Attorney Warns Supervisors About Jail Crowding

"You can say what you want, but you've got some minimum security people in your jail," said attorney Ron Welch, as he spoke to Harrison County supervisors Monday about jail overcrowding.

Welch commended the county for making progress to reduce jail overcrowding. But he also pulled no punches in describing the severity of problems which remain.

"We're talking risk here. We're talking risk. You are exposed ladies and gentlemen, to the most severe potential liability of any jail that I know of in the state. And I'm not even including the death, the suits over the deaths," said Welch.

He told supervisors the most serious troubles are locks that don't work and a jail staff that's too small. "You're way below staff there. It's been reported to me that essentially all the locks, most every lock in the facility is malfunctioning. Doesn't work," he said.

Supervisors listened and expressed frustration; frustration over a sheriff who some say doesn't communicate and frustration that these same jail problems have been lingering for years.

"This board passed a bond issue for three and a half million dollars, that we passed assuming these issues would be corrected. We seem to be back in five years or so, square one," said a clearly frustrated supervisor Marlin Ladner.

The board did approve going out to bid for new jail locks, a new roof and new air conditioning system. The warden says such improvements should help with morale and staff retention.

Along with making physical improvements to the jail, supervisors are also taking a closer look at jail finances. One fiscal concern is the amount cities are charged to house inmates, fifteen dollars per day, per inmate, an amount that's been the same for nearly a decade.

"That's not adequate for those cities' contributions to the jail. You've got to have them paying the fair freight," Welch told the board.

The county had faced a May first deadline to reduce the inmate population to 760. The count on Monday was 847, but since the number has been dropping, Welch extended the deadline a few more months. Harrison County now has until September first to meet that goal.