TUPELO, MISS. (WCBI) – From the moment it opened more than 20 years ago, the current Lee County Jail has been at capacity.
“We got a 220 bed facility now, there was 267 in there Friday,” said Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson.
In the early 1990s, the federal government threatened hefty fines if Lee County didn’t replace its outdated jail. Sheriff Johnson says the current jail was built without a lot of long range planning.
“The building we’re occupying now was built under a federal consent, which was mandated after we got in trouble at the old site on Front Street and we certainly don’t want to keep prolonging this thing until we get in that situation again,” the sheriff said.
Sheriff Johnson points out the new jail isn’t just about space for more inmates, he says the project would mean a state of the art facility for law enforcement in Lee County.
“A government law enforcement complex, that will house the sheriff’s department, the county jail, the county morgue as well as justice court and the possibility of a crime lab,” Johnson said.
A 500 bed facility would need approximately 25 to 30 acres. Lee County Board of Supervisors President Phil Morgan is part of a site selection committee for a new facility.
“”We’re at the point where we have to move forward, it’s not going to go away, and it’s getting worse, the jail is overcrowded, the facility is outdated, I think beyond repair. We’re moving forward with it,” Morgan said.
Sheriff Johnson says a new jail would allow the county to house state and federal inmates , which would bring in extra revenue.
Morgan tells WCBI he wants to put the issue before voters through a referendum during next year’s congressional elections.