Lee supervisors to wait on jail expansion

BY LEESHA FAULKNER

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Lee County supervisors will wait to consider jail expansion until they know more about state inmate numbers.

“We're going to wait and see what (the state) does,” said supervisors president Bobby Smith, “then, we'll make a decision.”

Nearly two weeks ago, supervisors and Sheriff Jim H. Johnson talked about options to expand the Lee County-Tupelo Adult Detention Facility. The Lee County sheriff and some supervisors said they understood Gov. Haley Barbour advocated closing additional units at Parchman State Penitentiary and shipping out inmates to county jails.

Not so, said a spokesman for the governor's office, who added that the sheriff must have misunderstood the governor's message. Barbour was talking about earlier camp closings at the Sunflower County-based prison and the transfer of inmates to private prisons.

John Arledge, the governor's chief of staff, said governor's staffers and Department of Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps' office had left messages for the supervisors.

“We haven't received any telephone calls,” Smith said Monday morning at the supervisors meeting after the sheriff presented his monthly report.

For a couple of months, Johnson has talked about crowded conditions at the detention center, even with a county work center to take some of the load during the day. More women prisoners are coming through the system, he said, and they need their space away from the men.

Trying to reduce numbers

Last week, Johnson reviewed the bonds of many adult detention facility prisoners to allow as many out as he could to reduce crowding.

“I'm waiting on the phone to ring with people wanting to know why I let them out,” he told supervisors Monday. “Some of them can make bond. Some of them can't.”

Johnson released the detention center's July daily population figures: average 225 inmates. The highest inmate population during the month was 357 on July 23. The lowest was 197 on July 25.

The figures didn't break down the number of state and county inmates, and the numbers didn't include the inmates who are assigned to the work center in Tupelo.

Under federal guidelines for jails, the detention center should have a maximum inmate population of 202. “Only two days were we in compliance,” the sheriff said.

But Lee County shouldn't expect an influx of inmates soon, according to Epps. Recently, Epps said he has no plans to close additional Parchman camps. The only way he would do so would be to save money, he said. Then, those inmates likely would go to private prisons, not into the counties.

During the previous fiscal year, which ended June 30, DOC closed four units at Parchman, Epps said. Housing for the four units was built in 1976 and only intended for temporary use. Those inmates were transferred to the Delta Correctional Facility in Greenwood.

Epps said negotiations are under way with a private prison in Tutwiler to house maximum security inmates. If those negotiations go well and an agreement is reached, Epps said, one more camp might transfer out of Parchman.

Contact Leesha Faulkner at 678-1590 or leesha.faulkner@djournal.com