Statement from Sheriff Jim H. Johnson
I want to take a few minutes to inform you, the public, on an issue we are addressing in regards to The Lee County Sheriff’s Department and Correctional Facility.
The current facility located at 510 North Commerce Street is home of The Lee County Sheriff’s Department and houses all inmates for Lee County, all municipalities, mental commitments, and court orders. We are the only correctional facility in Lee County.
The current facility that houses the Lee County Sheriff’s Department and Correctional Facility is in many ways outdated. Inmate capacity and administrative space is only a portion of the problem. The conditions of the entire facility are beyond poor. For the last 5 years, over 20 Grand Juries have convened to hear cases that effect the population of our facility. During the course of the Grand Jury, they will tour and inspect all county property. Every inspection for the past 5 years, by registered voters serving on the Grand Jury, has included the poor conditions of the facility. Most have recommended a new one.
The following is a timeline of events regarding the new county facility:
1. Five years ago we began addressing this situation. The City of Tupelo was in the initial stages of planning for a new police headquarters. We first met with Tupelo officials and were willing to cooperate with them to build a city / county facility that would house the Tupelo Police Administration, Lee County Sheriff’s Department and a joint correctional facility. The idea was talked about and the City of Tupelo would not agree to a joint facility. The City of Tupelo then built the new Tupelo Police Department on Front Street. The current Tupelo Police Department is not equipped to house inmates.
2. We then looked at the option of a regional facility that would allow a facility to house the Lee County Sheriff’s Department, a county corrections facility and a 300 bed state facility. This would require action of the Mississippi State Legislator. The revenue Lee County would have received from housing state inmates would have offset the cost of the entire facility. This bill passed the Mississippi House of Representatives unanimously, but was never voted on in the Mississippi Senate so the bill died. Later after the former state corrections commissioner was arrested , the state stopped approving any new regional corrections facilities.
3. We are now looking at options for Lee County to build its own facility that will house the Lee County Sheriff’s Department, a correctional facility, the Lee County Justice Court, a county morgue and possibly a crime lab. This will require more acres of land than is currently available at our present location. At the request of the Lee County Board of Supervisors, Representative Jerry Turner introduced a bill, House Bill 1463, that would allow, without any conflict, Lee County to build a new facility anywhere in Lee County. The bill passed the house and is now stuck in committee in the Senate. According to public record, Lee County Representative Aguirre voted against this bill. Armed with this information, inquiries were made and it appears that the City of Tupelo is opposed to House Bill 1463.
I met with the Lee County Board of Supervisors on March 6, 2017 and gave them an update on House Bill 1463. I also advised the supervisors there is another option if House Bill 1463 is not approved. Lee County could build the new facilities without limitations anywhere in Lee County if they chose not to enter into contracts with other entities to house inmates. By state law, a county is not responsible for housing municipal inmates. So if Lee County does not have contracts to hold inmates, it is not bound to build in any specific area, for example, inside the city limits of Tupelo. Lee County could still hold municipal inmates; it just would not be bound by an individual contract. Lee County and Tupelo currently have a contract to house Tupelo inmates. When Lee County builds a new facility, it would no longer be under obligation to house Tupelo inmates under the old contract. Any municipalities that wanted Lee County to hold their inmates could do so under well established guidelines set forth by the board of supervisors and the sheriff. Any municipalities that did not want Lee County to continue to house their inmates would be responsible for providing their own correctional facilities.