By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Two bills advanced Wednesday in the Mississippi Legislature designed to ease overcrowding in the Lee County criminal justice system.
The House approved what is known as local and private legislation that would allow Lee County supervisors to construct a new jail outside of Tupelo’s borders.
A state law was cited during discussions of a new jail that required jails jointly built by a county and municipality to be within one mile of the municipal borders. Supervisors said they might want the option to build beyond that area where land costs might be cheaper.
Lee County supervisors requested the legislation. County leaders have been concerned with costly repair needs and overcrowding of the current jail for some time.
The bill now goes to the Senate.
Also Wednesday, the 52-member state Senate passed without a dissenting vote a bill to allow Lee County to hire a youth court referee. The referee would hear youth court cases under the supervision of County Judge Charles Brett who hears youth court cases in Lee County.
Sen. Chad McMahan, R-Guntown, said the legislation was filed at the request of Lee County officials. It would not mandate Lee County hire a youth court referee, but would provide that option. It also would give Lee County municipalities the option to help fund the position.
The bill is needed because the county does not have in existing law the authority to create such a position.
McMahan said Brett hears on average 12 cases per day in youth court and has heard as many as 18.
“This would be a way to help eliminate some of the congestion in youth court, but it does not have mandates on anybody,” McMahan said.
The proposal now goes to the House.