Pascagoula Planning Board Turns Down Request To Expand Jail

Violet Lett says she's pleased to see her family church, St. Peter's the Apostle, trying to build back post-Katrina. But, Lett says she's not pleased with the county's request for a variance to allow the county jail to expand into land zoned residential, just across the street from St. Peter's.

"We would not want to come out on our front porch and be faced with a jail. Now we understand they're human, just like we are, but we just don't want that in our neighborhood," says Violet Lett, Pascagoula.

County leaders say they tried to get permission from lawmakers in Jackson to move the jail outside city limits, but was unsuccessful. City officials point to another reason why the county might have its hands tied.

"State law requires the county jail be located in the county seat, unless the legislature passes a law that says so," says Pascagoula Planning Director Stephen Mitchell.

The county seat is Pascagoula.

"Perhaps they don't want it.  Perhaps we'd rather have it out in the county, but that's not an option that's on the table," says Board of Supervisors President Tim Broussard.

Those who live in the neighborhood say the planning board should consider safety as a primary issue when it comes granting the county a variance to expand.  They say if a prisoner breaks out, the first place he'll probably break in is into someone's home.

Residents also say the expansion of the jail could hurt the potential for economic progress in their community post-Katrina.

"It's a travesty when you're trying to attract people to come into your county or city for the purpose of economic development, and that's the main thoroughfare that they have to drive down," says Representative Billy Broomfield.

Pascagoula Planning Director Stephen Mitchell told WLOX the planning board decided to deny the county's request for a variance to expand the jail in a unanimous vote. Mitchell says he thinks one of the deciding factors in the vote came after Representative Broomfield agreed to support a local and private legislative bill to place the jail outside city limits, if the board found a place for it in the county.

The Pascagoula City Council will take the board's decision into consideration before making a final decision at next Tuesday's council meeting.