TUPELO, MISS. (WCBI)- Inside the women’s pod, makeshift bunk beds line the floor. A cell in the medical wing is now used to house confidential records for inmates and an investigator shares his office with the fingerprint machine, meaning he has to leave his work , anytime prints are taken. A quick tour of the Lee County Jail shows the pressing need for extra room. “It’s the space in general, the entire sheriff’s department, from records to radio room to offices for investigators to jail space for inmates,” said Sheriff Jim Johnson.
The latest recommendations come from a report by the recent grand jury. In fact, Sheriff Johnson allows each grand jury to tour the facilities and share their findings. Overall, the report says the jail is in good condition, but needs more educational space in adult and juvenile facilities and also recommended a better suicide prevention cell. When the jail was opened in the mid 1990s,. it was a state of the art facility. But now, the pods for inmates are always at or over capacity .
“The problem we have with the county jail, we’re mandated by the state to house state inmates until they can be transferred to a state facility, that’s one of our biggest problems, those people can’t bond out, can’t put them on ankle bracelet, can’t put them in drug court, can’t do anything but house them,” Sheriff Johnson said. Also there is not enough space for staff. For instance, there is not one room in the entire facility large enough for Sheriff Johnson to meet with all staff at one time.
Just keeping up with increasing state and federal mandates can be a daunting task. “I’ve told everybody, if the sheriff could get out of the jail business, he would have the best job there was, but it is the biggest headache that comes with this job, the responsibility of a correctional facility,” he said. There are several options that could be considered, among them, putting the jail, and sheriff’s office in a new facility for the Tupelo Police Department, adding on to the current complex, or building a separate jail. Early next week a consultant will meet with Lee County supervisors and the sheriff to assess the needs, and then look at costs for the project.