City donates land for new jail

The Hazlehurst Board of Aldermen agreed to donate 17.5 acres of land in the city industrial park as the site for a regional jail.

The board met last Tuesday night in recessed session to discuss with matter with Sheriff Harold Jones and the Copiah County Board of Supervisors.

The county jail at Gallman is old and too small, Sheriff Jones told the aldermen. That day he had 69 inmates housed in a facility designed to hold 53.

The state has approved Copiah County to a list of sites for eight regional jails that will be built throughout the state. The new jail would be similar to the facility in Fayette, Jones said.

The site in the Hazlehurst industrial park meets all of the state’s criteria – including distance from schools and nearness to the interstate, with room for some expansion, Jones reported.  

“We are struggling with our jail now,” said Jones. “We have to have a new jail. Either we’ll have a bond issue to pay for it, or we can try it this way.”

The regional jail would be paid for with a bond issue backed by the state for about $13 to $15 million, Jones estimates. The county would sign a 20 year contract with the Department of Corrections, and the state would pay the county to run the jail. The contract guarantees the facility will be at least 80 percent full at all times (240 inmates) with the state paying $29.70 per inmate per day, which will be used to run the jail and pay back the bonds. The cost of inmate maintenance will be adjusted for inflation when necessary, according to Jones.

This would result in a new jail for the county without using local tax dollars to pay for it, Jones told the board. There are about eleven of these facilities in the state now, and most are kept at full capacity. Jones has visited several of these facilities and spoken with the local sheriffs, who recommended the plan to him.

Under the regional jail plan the county would get 150 beds for local inmates plus 300 for the state. In addition Jones hopes the county will be approved for a 75 bed joint work facility, which would house inmates who would be available to perform any needed work countywide, such as litter removal and maintenance at public facilities.

The regional jail would provide about 55 new jobs. MDOC help would be available at all times, Jones said, increasing the officer presence in the area.

Benefits to the city and surrounding area will include business brought by family members who visit the jail every week.

“Visitors will come from all over the state,” said Jones. “They will stay in the motels, buy gas here, and eat here.”

The inmate labor will also benefit the public works departments in the county.

The city agreed to donate 17.5 acres at the far end of the industrial park, which should not hurt industrial development prospects in the park. Road, sewer and water improvements can be developed using grant funds for the new jail, which would further benefit the city.

The Hazlehurst Industrial Park is located adjacent to the interstate near the south Hazlehurst exit. Jones suggested leaving a buffer of trees to screen the jail from interstate traffic.

Aldermen and supervisors discussed plans to make a joint visit to a nearby regional jail.

The city’s donation is contingent on the state’s approval of the site for the regional jail.

Other business handled during the recessed meeting included appointing Renee Harrison to the Election Commission, hiring Cedrick Sutton as animal control officer and maintenance, and reappointing Mrs. Hanvey to the Housing Authority board. Aldermen also approved a resolution to apply for a grant for a new ladder truck for the fire department.

The Hazlehurst Board of Aldermen regularly meets on the first Tuesday of each month at 6 p.m. in City Hall.

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