"Let's roll." Those were the words the state department of corrections commissioner had for the Harrison County Supervisors Monday morning. Commissioner Chris Epps said the county should pursue a regional jail both MDOC and the governor are behind.
" Good Morning. We have 877 in main facility," a Harrison County Sheriff's deputy informed supervisors.
The county jail was built to hold 760. The fact is Harrison County simply doesn't have enough space for its inmates. Mississippi's correction commissioner says the state has the same problem.
"Three thousand beds," said Commissioner Epps. "We expect all of them to come on line before April 2009 and all of them will be full the day they open."
Chris Epps says a win-win for the state and Harrison County would be building a regional jail, but that will take time, money and legislative approval. MDOC must also sign-off on the site and design of the jail. Then comes the construction phase.
"Generally what I have seen is it's been taking 12 to 14 months and that depends on variables such as the weather and that sort of thing," said Epps. "So I'm in November of 2009 to January 2010 to give you an idea. Can it be sped up? Absolutely."
Epps estimates building a brand new jail would cost Harrison County $12.6 million depending on whether the county would have to buy land, but housing state inmates would help offset the costs. The state pays $29.74 per day per state inmate plus medical expenses. Epps thinks Harrison County would do well to take in 300 male state prisoners.
Epps said "The building of approximately 54,000 square feet. Why is that important? The reason that's important is I want you to be able to get your 300 capacity. Why is that important? The more you have in state inmates, it's going to help you pay for your facility and your operating costs. The less you have the more the county and the taxpayers of Harrison County are going to have to put out."
Epps also suggested that Harrison County review the fee it charged its cities for housing inmates as a funding source. Another money saving option, would be to expand the Harrison County jail. The building was designed to add two more wings to accommodate 360 more prisoners which would be enough for state prisoners.
Incoming Sheriff Melvin Brisolara supports that idea.
"I think that would be the cost effective way to go. You're keeping them under the same facility but you're adding on these pods, but it's your additional staffing, other hospital needs, you're kitchen needs. We won't have to duplicate any of that."
Harrison County Jail Warden Don Cabana agreed the expansion is the better choice. But he also noted that the county could build floors on top of the expansion to ease overcrowding of county inmates now and int the future.
"There's nothing to say that we can't build tiers," Cabana said. "The current design is two tiers but there's nothing to say that you can't get x number of people into the same space by going up."
The sheriff, warden and corrections commissioner agree, a long term solutions is needed, because harsh reality is the prison population keeps growing.
District Attorney Cono Caranna was at today's meeting and says he also supports the regional jail concept. Commissioner Epps says the county may have to re-evaluate how much it charges cities to house inmates to pay for some expenses.