Grand jury recommends more jail educational facilities

By JB Clark/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – A recent grand jury report cites the need for a long-range plan to correct deficiencies in the Lee County Jail.
Among the recommendations are more space and educational rooms in the adult jail and Juvenile Detention Center.
The March grand jury recommendations are in line with the direction the jail needs to be going, according to Sheriff Jim Johnson.
The report was issued after a tour of the Lee County Justice Center, Lee County Adult Jail, Juvenile Detention Center, Justice Court and Lee County Courthouse.
It said the jail is in good condition but needs extra space and the educational rooms in the adult jail and juvenile center for more teaching volunteers.
The grand jury recommended a better suicide-prevention cell. It also advised the administrative offices of Tupelo and Lee County could be combined.
Johnson said the Juvenile Detention Center was built before No Child Left Behind was enacted, and the program makes the facility provide school for each juvenile inmate.
“The building was not assigned to adequately serve that purpose,” he said. “As far as housing – beds and detention – we couldn’t grow a lot over there, but we’re in fairly good shape.”
He said the adult jail is also out of space for additional teaching rooms since the jail was built in 1997 to serve its immediate needs at the time of construction and a future plan was not put into place.
The final recommendation by the grand jury was for the Lee County Board of Supervisors to formulate a review and long-term plan for the Lee County Jail.
“I think what they realized is when they built this facility and moved into it, they didn’t look this far down the road,” Johnson said. “Let’s not only fix the problem today, but fix it down the road. Let’s do it one time and get it right and be through with it.”
Lee County Board of Supervisors President Bobby Smith said the board thinks the recommendations look good and are appreciated, but the board doesn’t currently have a way to fund improvements or a new jail.
He said moving forward, the board will have to make sure what they build, when a new facility is built, is adequate to house the county’s administration, courts and inmates for years to come.
Johnson said the idea of putting the jail, sheriff’s office and a new Tupelo Police facility or a new Lee County Justice Court facility together have all been considered.
“They’re going to build something and we’re going to build something so we want to entertain the idea,” he said.
A grand jury report in November 2008 said the 202-bed facility housed 278 inmates. That number was closer to 175 this week.
Lee County supervisors have been talking about a new jail facility and looking for plans for a new facility – in an effort to ease the burden on the crowded jail – since at least 2009.
Johnson said talks of a new jail facility are farther along than they’ve been since he took office nine years ago.
jb.clark@journalinc.com