Hancock County Jail approved for 80 state inmates in drug program
By Dwayne Bremer
Oct 12, 2012, 23:12
A federal judge has approved Hancock County to house up to 80 state inmates and host one of the Department of Corrections drug and alcohol programs, a decision which could generate more than $650,000 annually for the county, Sheriff Ricky Adam said Thursday.
On Wednesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge David Sanders, of the U.S. District Court's Northern Mississippi Division, approved a joint motion from Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood and attorney Ronald Welch, who represents state inmates housed in county jails.
The motion paves the way for Hancock County to house up to 80 state inmates, who will be participating in the state's short-term drug and alcohol program.
"This is a very positive and exciting step for us," Adam said Friday. "Not only will this help us with our budget situation, but we have the chance to host an important state program."
The agreement is for one year, but the county can renew the program every October.
Under the program, the state will pay $20 per inmate, per day, and it will pick up all medical costs for said inmates, MDOC Commissioner Christopher Epps said Friday.
Epps said the drug and alcohol program is a six-month program aimed at helping rehabilitate offenders.
"Seventy-six percent of all offenders have some type of drug or alcohol problem," Epps said. "This program with Hancock County is a win-win for everyone involved. The state gets to use this fine new facility in Hancock County, and Hancock County gets to make a little revenue."
The new Hancock County Jail was opened in February. It is capable of housing about 300 inmates.
Currently, the jail is only housing about 120 inmates. Last month, Welch inspected the jail, and it apparently passed with flying colors.
Welch represents a class of inmates who are housed in county jails. Before the state can move any inmates to county jails, there must first be an agreement between Welch, MDOC, and the attorney general's office.
"We looked at some areas which were specific to housing state inmates," Welch said. "The jail is a very impressive facility. I came away with a very positive opinion of the sheriff and the warden. They look like they are going in the right direction."
Epps also had high praise for Hancock County's new jail.
"I toured the jail a few months ago with the sheriff, warden and board of supervisors," Epps said. "It is one of the most secure facilities I've been in during my 31-year career."
The state has drug and alcohol programs in other county jails such as Pearl River County and Grenada.
"This program has worked well in other counties and I'm sure it will be another fine partnership with Hancock County," Epps said. To house state inmates, Hancock County had to make some slight adjustments to its operation. The inmates will be housed in two of the jails' open dorms, which are capable of housing up to 40 inmates each.
The county will also have a separate pod for county inmate workers, officials said. In his ruling, Sanders said that the overall number of inmates in the jail cannot exceed 285, and the state inmates must be housed in separate pods, not to exceed more than 40 in each section.
The county must also provide two large-screen televisions for each state pod, allow the state inmates two hours of recreation per day, and install basketball goals in the inside recreation area, the ruling said.
Jail Warden Evan Hubbard said Thursday that the county will need to purchase a few things to help get the program up started, and three new employees will need to be hired to administer the drug and alcohol program.
"There will be some initial costs to get the program running," he said.
Hubbard said the state inmates are expected to begin arriving on Oct. 22.
He said most, if not all, will be lower security inmates.
"These inmates must complete the drug and alcohol program as a condition of their release," he said. "I don't think we will have much trouble with them."
Hubbard said the last seven months have provided valuable training for his staff in advance of getting state inmates.
"I think the staff is prepared," he said.
Adam said getting the program approved would not have been possible without the hard work of several people.
"I want to thank Commissioner Epps, state Senators Philip Moran and Angela Hill and our jail consultant Irb Benjamin for helping us get this project," Adam said.
In addition to the state inmates, the county is also hoping to get accredited to be able to house federal inmates, Adam said.
"We are working on getting accredited," Adam said. "Our goal is to be able to hold even more state and federal inmates."