Consultant tells county: ‘Your jail here is not safe’

Published 9:22 pm Tuesday, April 20, 2021

A jail built in 1997 in north Mississippi was poorly designed, does not meet current standards and should be replaced, a jail-operations consultant told Lee County supervisors.

“Your jail here is not safe. Your jail here is a high risk to operate,” Tom Weber said during a meeting Monday, according to the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.

Weber estimated the county would need to spend $50 million to build a new 400-bed jail. He said the cost could rise to nearly $80 million for a larger complex that would include court facilities and administrative offices for the sheriff.

Lee County supervisors hired the Wisconsin-based consultant last year to study jail population numbers and forecast future trends.

Weber said he found serious problems at the Lee County Adult Jail, including a high turnover rate among employees, insufficient administrative space, crowding for detainees and limited programming space.

Weber told the Daily Journal that while the estimated costs may alarm some Lee County taxpayers, he believes a more effective facility can contribute to rehabilitation of offenders. He also highlighted risks and hardships for jail employees.

“It’s difficult a lot of times to have compassion for offenders, but the staff that work in that jail are also doing a lot of time in that jail,” Weber said. “They deserve better accommodations.”

The county needs to hire an architectural firm to devise a master plan, Weber said.

Some Lee County supervisors told the Daily Journal they think building a new jail is inevitable.

“I’ve been in that jail several times. I wouldn’t want my dog working down there,” said board president Billy Joe Holland.

If supervisors agree to fund a multimillion-dollar facility, a property tax increase would likely be required. Holland said an $80 million price tag could cause public backlash. Another supervisor, Tommie Lee Ivy, said anything near that amount is far too expensive.