By Lena Mitchell
Daily Journal Corinth Bureau
CORINTH – The Mississippi Department of Corrections’ investigation into the Oct. 26, 2013, death of Alcorn County state inmate William Whitaker has resulted in a temporary suspension of state inmates being sent to the Alcorn County Regional Jail in Corinth.
In a letter to Sheriff Charles Rinehart dated Nov. 7, Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps said the investigation’s findings “are alarming and greatly undermine the Mississippi Department of Corrections mission of ensuring public safety,” and MDOC has temporarily halted sending additional inmates to the jail.
Epps said the sheriff had violated state law and MDOC’s policies when he allowed Whitaker and five other named inmates release who were not eligible to have an overnight leave from the jail.
Epps said the sheriff must provide him with a plan of action by the county to correct this issue by Nov. 29.
“I gave Mr. Whitaker a pass and let him stay with his mother and unfortunately he died,” the sheriff said. “He was in bad health, and it is my fault to let him go over there. We carried him over there at 5 p.m. and were going to pick him up at 7 a.m. I called to notify Mr. Epps as soon as it happened.”
Rinehart said he would respond to Epps by the Nov. 29, date with particulars of what corrective measures they will take.
The Alcorn County Regional Jail had its first evaluation by the American Corrections Association earlier this year and received a 99.7 percent rating, a distinction Rinehart said he will not jeopardize.
The regional jail currently houses about 345 state inmates, about 300 in the regional jail facility and another 45 or so in the work center, Rinehart said.
During the annual inspection last week by inmate attorney Ron Welch, Rinehart said the jail had been approved for an additional 50 inmates. However, that plan cannot move forward until this matter is cleared up.
“It won’t happen again, we will correct it,” Rinehart said. “It’s not anything we can’t correct, and we will.”