Meridian Star

Local News

June 30, 2013

Ongoing problem

Jail overcrowding costing taxpayers

MERIDIAN —     Overcrowding at the Lauderdale County Adult Detention Facility in downtown Meridian is an ongoing problem that could cost taxpayers an additional $250,000 next year.

    Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie said he has brought the issue to the attention of the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors on more than one occasion, but as yet the problem has not been resolved.

    "The members of the board of supervisors know all about the problems I am facing with the overcrowding and the costs that are eating away at my budget," Sollie said.

    The maximum capacity for the Lauderdale County Detention Center in

is 290 inmates. There are an additional 30 beds at Hilltop Honor Farm where trustees are housed. The trustees pick up trash along highways and perform other duties at the jail.     

    The jail routinely houses more than the maximum number of inmates, however.

    The Kemper/Neshoba Regional Correctional Facility has been housing some of Lauderdale County's inmates. On a recent day, there were 23 Lauderdale County inmates incarcerated at the Kemper facility at a cost of $20 per day per inmate, or $460 a day.

    The Kemper jail can house a maximum of 36 Lauderdale County inmates, which costs Lauderdale County taxpayers $720 a day. That is money not included in Sollie's annual jail budget of $3.9 million, he said.

    Sollie has submitted in his jail budget next year an additional $250,000 to cover the anticipated cost to continue to house inmates at the Kemper facility.

    Overcrowding has also cost additional money for medical care of inmates.

    The jail has an annual $330,000 contract with Southern Health Partners of Chattanooga, Tenn., to provide medical care to 280 inmates. Whenever the jail population exceeds 280, the jail has to pay a daily fee for each additional inmate over that number. An annual payment next year to Southern Health Partners is expected to increase by $9,000.

    In addition, a $40,000 pool of funds that paid for inmate treatment outside of the jail was exhausted seven weeks ago.     

    Sollie said he has kept supervisors abreast of the situation. District 2 Supervisor Wayman Newell said Sollie has been constantly knocking on the door of the supervisors asking for help. Newell said he would like to help the sheriff and doesn't blame Sollie for trying to get the situation resolved.

    "If I was him, facing the things he has to face, I'd be knocking on everyone's door too," Newell said. "But we've been wrapped up with the bond issue. He's doing all he can and so are we. But I agree with him. We have to address this issue somehow."

    The bond issue Newell referred to is $14 million in bonds approved by the board of supervisors June 17 in a 3-2 vote that will fund $3.8 million to build a 32,000 square foot sports complex that will house a four-court gymnasium with bleachers at Highland Park.

    Also, $3.5 million of the bonds will go to the county-owned fields of the West Lauderdale Youth Association; $2.5 million will go to the county-owned Clarkdale Community Recreation Association park construction, and the remainder, $4.2 million, will go to fund the beginning of renovations at the Lauderdale County Courthouse.

    Voting for the bond issue were Hank Florey, District 1, Josh Todd, District 3, and Joe Norwood, District 4. Those voting against the bond issue were Newell and Kyle Rutledge, District 5.

    "The Department of Justice won't shut down Lauderdale County because they don't have enough baseball fields or basketball courts," Sollie said. "But they will shut us down if we exceed our limitations. We could've built a prefabricated, low risk facility across the street (at Fourth Street and 20th Avenue) for a lot less than $14 million."

    Todd said, however, the $14 million bond issue won't be a factor in obtaining more funds if needed to address the overcrowding problem at the jail.

    "There have been discussions among the board members about this ongoing problem," Todd says. "We are just trying to explore all the possible options of how we can get this done."

        Original plans for the jail, which has 11 pods, included provisions to expand the facility.     

    Sollie said a new pod would cost approximately $2 million, but that is a very rough estimate since there has not been a recent cost analysis. There is room for one additional pod, which would hold from 35 to 45 prisoners, he said.

    "That would be a short term solution," Sollie said.

    Desoto County Sheriff Bill Rasco said the board of supervisors there recently approved a motion to accept bids on an addition to his detention center, barely a year old, that would add 264 more beds to the facility, bringing his total to about 550 beds.

    "We are doing a lot here to address these issues because when I became sheriff we were overcrowded," said Rasco, who is in his second term as sheriff. "We are looking 25 years down the road and trying to plan for what we may be having to deal with."

    Rasco says the new addition will cost about $9 million to build and that construction should start sometime this fall.

    In a recent board of supervisors workshop, Norwood questioned if expanding the jail would resolve the problem.

    "Twelve months from now you'll need another pod," Norwood told Sollie. "Twelve months from that you'll need another pod. We'll spend every penny that we can get our hands on locking folks up. I know criminals out there you can't just let them go free. It's important that we find alternatives to incarceration."

    Sollie said he has been exploring other alternatives.

    Utilizing ankle bracelets and more house arrests may be one answer to the problem, although Sollie says it isn't the only answer. He says there isn't one magic button to push that will make this all go away. Instead, it will take the cooperation from many sources.

    "We're currently using ankle bracelets with youthful offenders," Sollie said. "We are talking with justice and chancery court judges about also putting ankle bracelets on deadbeat dads."

    The Meridian Star staff Terri Smith and Michael Stewart contributed to this report.

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