Harrison Co. may add 500 jail beds and open "restitution center"

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Harrison County is considering building a 500 bed addition to the jail and turning the work center into a "restitution center."

This week the board of supervisors directed the sheriff to begin negotiations with a Louisiana firm that specializes in building detention facilities.

Temporary "pods" now provide much needed space to reduce jail overcrowding.

The sheriff wants to build a 500 bed permanent addition. But he cautions, that alone, won't be enough.

"You can't just continue to keep building beds. You have to come up with ways to get them in and out of the system faster than what we're doing," said Sheriff Melvin Brisolara.

Failure to meet court-ordered requirements put the work center program on hold and prompted the removal of state inmates.

"We are not able to meet the standards that the state and justice want us to meet right now in order to house the state inmates. So, we're looking at possibly two years down the line before we'll be able to house the state inmates and get our work programs going again," the sheriff told WLOX News.

Which is why the sheriff would like to turn the work center into a "restitution center." Someone who owes child support, for example, could be sent there rather than jail.

"The judges will be able to order them to the restitution center. They stay there during the night. They're released for work during the day, and they're returned in the evening. And the funds are turned over to the court to pay their restitution," says Sheriff Brisolara.

How to pay for new jail facilities is among the primary concerns of county supervisors. At this week's board meeting, Supervisor Kim Savant said it would be difficult to issue bonds based solely on the revenue generated from housing prisoners.

"You're going to have to issue bonds based on tax mileage, general property taxes, and that's why I want that discussion," Savant told his fellow board members.

The sheriff is confident necessary improvements will be funded.

"And this facility is more like a prison than it is a county jail. We've got to get back to reality, get back to a county jail," said Sheriff Brisolara.

He says housing federal prisoners would be one way to raise some revenue for new facilities.

At Monday's board meeting, some supervisors said they didn't want prisoners "from Guantanamo Bay" dumped on Harrison County.

The sheriff said he has "no plans" to accept any of the federal government's "problem kids."