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Supervisors Pass Resolution To Move Forward With Plans To Build State/County Jail

Mississippi Department of Corrections Chris Epps traveled to Water Valley last Wednesday. Epps outlined the benefits of building a regional jail in Yalobusha County to supervisors. – Photo by Jack Gurner

Nobody wants to get rid of a regional prison. Nobody. – Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps referring to the 11 County/Regional Jails currently operating in Mississippi.

By David Howell

WATER VALLEY – Yalobusha Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution during a recessed Wednesday meeting to approve Yalobusha County as the location of a regional jail.

    The vote came after several weeks of discussion and an approximate hour presentation by Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps during the recessed meeting.

    The construction of the regional/county jail would come with an estimated price tag of $12 million – money that would be paid from revenue the facility would generate.

    The board’s resolution does not finalize the decision, which will ultimately be made by state lawmakers as money is appropriated for numerous regional facilities slated to be constructed in the state.

    The situation, as described by Epps, is an opportunity for the county to build the jail, which would house county and state prisoners, at no cost to the taxpayers. The regional/county jail would house an estimated 250 to 300 state prisoners and 90 to 100 county inmates.

    The state pays just under $30 per day for each state prisoner housed in regional facilities, an amount that could generate an estimated $3 million-plus annually in the Yalobusha facility if it comes to fruition. Epps said there are 15 counties currently vying for regional jails

    Epps outlined the benefits and details of the potential facility during the hour-long meeting

    “Whatever you want I got it,” Epps jokingly said about the type of inmates the county could receive. The Commissioner reported that generally counties receive medium security inmates who are in good health.

The Process

    “Governor Barbour knows I am up here and he supports the whole process,” Epps said as he described the numerous counties he has visited to discuss this topic.

    Epps said bills should be passed in the 2008 legislative session that would designate the counties approved for the jails. The next step, outlined by Epps, would be to approve an actual site.

    The next phase, would be getting an architect to draw plans for the facility, which Epps would approve. Construction could take around 14 months for the facility, which Epps recommended to be 54,000 square feet.

    Epps said he gets input on three decisions from the get-go. Approving the actual jail site, approving the plans and approving the warden who will be hired to run the jail.

Board Comments

    “One thing we definitely have to look at is the fact that our jail is 43 years old.

    “It houses 24 people by law and it is full,” Vaughn said.

    “Very few times we get an opportunity to eliminate this problem, the size of our jail, without any cost to the taxpayers,” Vaughn added.

    “I think we need to look real closely at what is being said today. I know that there will be opposition to it as well as people who are for it. Let’s look at it with an open mind,” Vaughn continued.

Public Scrutiny

    Water Valley resident Cliff Lawson questioned the influx of visitors to the facility.

    “I have a little concern about the visitors,” Lawson said.

    “You have maybe 400 visitors come on the weekend,” Lawson said, adding they may come from the same culture as the inmates causing potential drug or gang problems while they are in the county.

    “You will have visitors…  two times a month,” Epps answered.

    “It will not be 400,” Epps said, estimating that 100 visitors would come from all over the state on visiting days.

    Epps said that strict visiting guidelines by the state typically keep problems to a minimum and the visitors actually create a little economic impact.

    “It’s a good question, but you don’t have to be concerned,” Epps said.

    Another Yalobushian, Eddie Ray, confirmed Epps’ assessment, citing a  past personal experience while visiting someone who had been incarcerated.

    “This thing has lots of good benefits for the people that are incarcerated,” Ray continued.

Closing Remarks

    “We are addressing that jail issue right now,” Tillman said, after resolution was voted upon.

    “It might be a few years, but if we don’t get our name in the pot it won’t happen.”

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