Lee County supervisors revisit jail expansion

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county_lee_greenBy Robbie Ward

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Lee County supervisors will revisit dusty plans to expand the county jail.

Overcrowding problems resulting in lawsuits have remained fairly constant for a decade inside the 202-bed jail. Supervisors agreed in 2009 to expand the jail but never approved plans or money for the capital project.

As Tupelo officials have informally approved at least $10 million for a new police facility, the Board of Supervisors has decided to dust off the county’s 2009 plan to expand the jail, built in 1999.

Earlier this week, the board voted 4-1 to allow architect Rud Robison with Pryor & Morrow architecture firm and county administrator Sean Thompson to evaluate the jail and update the 2009 plans.

“I’ll get it off the shelf and assist the board with a follow-up study,” Robison said.

Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson said the jail remains full “every day” and dated equipment requires staff to search eBay for replacement parts.

“I’m very appreciative that they’re now looking to move forward to see what need there is,” Johnson said.

The previous plan included a $500,000 administrative wing and $6 million jail pod addition, doubling inmate capacity. Other options included a $1.2 million Justice Court and a morgue attached to the new facility, along with building a second $6 million pod to triple existing room for inmates.

Supervisors will likely review the updated plan in about three months. Board President Darrell Rankin said county leaders should consider an altogether new facility if the current location won’t meet future needs.

“We need to build for what our problem will be in the future,” he said.

Supervisor Tommie Lee Ivy of District 4, who voted against updating the 2009 study, opposes even consideration of jail expansion. He prefers using county resources to prevent incarceration and alternative sentencing like house arrest to decrease jail population.

“I don’t care how large they build a jail, they still won’t have enough room,” Ivy said.

He said tax and fee increases for new E911 infrastructure and solid waste pickup make taxpayers reluctant to pay more.