Jail bond debate heats up as election day approaches

By Sylvia Hall - bio | email

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - The Jackson County ADC debate is heating up even more, and the November fourth election is just around the corner. The Jackson County Chamber of Commerce hosted a forum Monday night, where citizens could speak their minds and hear others' opinions as well.

Public knowledge of the issue is particularly important because the future of the jail lies in the hands of Jackson County voters who will decide whether the county can finance the building of a new jail.

The county says the current jail is overcrowded and out of date, and it's just a matter of time before an accident happens there.

"Even the opposition group admits we have to have a jail," said District 5 Supervisor John McKay. "Ours is old, it's outdated, it's dangerous, and it's only by the professional police work of our law enforcement we haven't had a catastrophe out there."

Supervisors think the legal repercussions of such a catastrophe could devastate the county for years.

"That is the single biggest liability this county faces," said McKay. "We happen to have some type of unfortunate occurrence out there, where an inmate or one of our deputies gets killed, we will have billions and billions in lawsuits."

But controversy surrounding the new jail's location in central Pascagoula could put the brakes on the project.

Opponents created the group, Citizens to Relocate the Jail. They've been fighting to have the project moved from its proposed location on Telephone Road in Pascagoula, and across the street from the current jail.

"It's located in a residential zone, and we do not want a jail built on the gateway to our community," said Alice Baker, founder of the group.

Baker said she hopes citizens will vote against the jail bond issue on November 4th.

"We are hoping that they will realize that the citizens do have a say in what they do in this county, and that they can't run over all of us and take advantage of us," she said.

McKay said the county tried to find another location before deciding on this one.

"We've explored every single option" he said. "We have twice been before the state legislature and asked for permission to build it outside the county seat, which is Pascagoula. We've looked at some 18 different sites around the county and they all have their individual problems."

Baker said that's not true, but that the Board of Supervisors has overlooked several reasonable locations for the new ADC.

"The county owns 72 acres that nothing is being done with, that it could be put right in the middle of those acres that would never be seen by anyone in the community," she said. "You would have to be going there to see it."

Baker also mentioned some private property on Highway 57 that she said the owners would be willing to sell to the county.  She said the supervisors refused to consider that option.

"Another question that we had was why, if they voted four to one to locate the jail on Telephone Road, and keep options open to look at other sites, why they won't they sit down with us to address the issue so that it can be located elsewhere," she said. "Even though they say they are looking at other sites, they will not negotiate."

If the jail bond fails, McKay said the county will have to look at other options, but points out that the problem of the overcrowded jail will still have to be solved.  He also said that if the bond passes, taxes will not go up as a result of the project.