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Prisoner Rights Attorney Points The Finger At County’s Jail

By David Howell

WATER VALLEY – Overcrow-ding in an antiquated facility has thrust the need for a new county jail back into the limelight after

Sheriff Lance Humphreys updated supervisors on a recent jail inspection. The sheriff’s update came during the “first Monday” supervisor meeting held in Water Valley.

    Humphreys told supervisors that Jackson attorney Ron Welch, who represents Mississippi prisoners in a variety of class action federal court cases concerning conditions of confinement, inspected the 40-plus year old Yalobusha Jail last Thursday.

    “He wasn’t happy about the jail situation,” Humphreys told supervisors, adding, “He said it was like a dungeon.”

    Monday’s boardroom discussion comes after extensive work earlier this year, when supervisors hired Irb Benjamin, a consultant for Mississippi Correctional Management, to lobby Mississippi legislators in an attempt to land a regional jail in the county.

    Although the Yalobusha was close to the top of a 15-county list competing to land a regional jail, which would be funded in part through state tax dollars, an appropriations bill funding the project fell through in the final days of the 2008 state legislative session.

    Humphreys told supervisors that he informed Welch that the board of supervisors were aware of the problem and had worked on landing a regional jail.

    “He said on the regionals, if we were to get approved, we are looking at five years before it is operational,” Humphreys continued.

    Another problem with the jail, explained Monday by the sheriff, is the jail stays full. The jail was at its 24-person capacity when Welch inspected it.

    “I have to report to him every month, send him a daily count of how many inmates I got,” Humphreys told supervisors of Welch’s requests, which will come in the form of a federal court order in coming days. The federal order will also cut the number of working state inmates from six to two, according to Humphreys.

    Humphreys currents utilizes inmate labor to cut grass at county-owned property and for other labor in the county.

    While this labor supply will be cut from a a maximum of six inmates to two inmates with Welch’s federal court order, Humphreys said a bigger problem is if Welch cuts all state inmates from being housed in the county jail.

    “Right now we have four weeks of Circuit Court going on, we have four, five or six (state inmates) in for court,” Humphreys explained.

    Yalobusha County would have to pay for these inmates to be housed in a neighboring county while awaiting court at an average cost of $35 per day. The state only reimburses the county $20 per day.

    Welch’s order will not affect county inmates who are awaiting trial or are serving time for a misdemeanor.

    Another problem, according to Humphreys, is the county is responsible for state inmates after sentencing.

    Inmates typically remain in the county jail for 30 to 45 days while paperwork is being processed before they are picked up by Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC),” Humphreys told the Herald after the meeting.

    “Then MDOC will wait until you get three inmates needing transport before they will come get them,” the sheriff added.

    “The bottom line is that the county could be incurring a daily expense if Welch does not allow state inmates to be housed at the county jail,” Humphreys told the Herald.

    “Every jail that houses state inmates is under federal order on housing,” per Welch’s lawsuit, Humphreys also told the Herald.

    “The problem is nothing that we have here, or the board of supervisors have done. The jail was built in 1964,” the sheriff added.

    “Since that time laws have change. Each prisoner is required to have so many square feet for what is called ‘day-use’ area,” Humphreys explained.

    Welch’s report cost the county $3,000, the price tag for the inspection.

What’s Next

    “The problem is, the jail is just old, he didn’t get on us for anything wrong,” Humphreys told supervisors about the inspection, which was the first of this type for county’s jail since 1982.

    Supervisor Tommy Vaughn offered input, reporting that he and Humphreys had examined Panola County’s jail during a visit last week.

    “They got a real nice operation over there. They got a lot of state inmates working on the roads and everywhere  needed,” Vaughn said.

    “It (a new county jail)  is something I think we need to look into. We got all our eggs in one basket, hoping for a regional jail. Might happen somewhere down the road, might possibly not,” Vaughn continued about the county’s options.

    “I don’t want to get too deep into this right now, but it is on my mind and I think it is on a lot of people’s mind about what are we going to do about our jail,” Vaughn

    “Maybe it is a possibility down the road we can build us a county jail instead of a regional jail,” Vaughn continued, pointing to the fact it would be easier to look after a 50-bed county jail as compared to a 300-bed regional jail.

    Vaughn pointed to the land and property that Carothers Construction has promised to donate to the county as a possible location for a county jail.

    Vaughn also said the county jail could be constructed with the possibility of adding on to meet future demands.

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