Jailhouse Rocks

A wooded area just past Lakeshore Road has been cleared and construction crews will now begin filling the area with dirt–the first stage of the new Hancock County Jail project has begun.

“We are excited to finally start seeing this project moving forward,” Sheriff Steve Garber said Tuesday. “Our staff has been working out of temporary quarters for more than four years now. It will be nice to get them back in a permanent home.”

The board of supervisors awarded two bids in April for the first phase of the jail project.

The first two phases include off-site utility work and a massive earth-work project which will set more than 120,000 cubic yards of new soil on the property.

In February, the county acquired 52 acres of land on Highway 90 near the NASA buffer zone.

The county is poised to receive about $40 million in federal funds to construct a new jail, sheriffs office, and justice court at the site.

Officials said the off-site utility work consists of installing fire hydrant connections; laying the infrastructure for future water and sewer hook-ups and running water lines which will connect with the new Hancock County Utility Authorities water main on Harbor Drive.

The site will be elevated about eight feet above its current elevation and the actual finished floor elevation will be at 23.1 feet, officials said.

The earth-work portion of the project has a completion time of 40 days, but then the dirt must set for about 90 days before actual construction can begin.

Once the first two projects are complete, the county can take bids on the construction phase, officials said.

Last week, Sheriff’s Administrator Ronnie Cuevas said the county is planning to construct a 300-bed jail facility.

The county will keep about 200 beds open for local inmates and use the remaining beds to house federal inmates, to help off-set operational costs.

Currently, there are about 130 Hancock County inmates being housed in Pearl River and Harrison Counties.

Prior to Hurricane Katrina, the jail population averaged about 130 inmates.

“We hope to never fill this jail to capacity, but it’s good to plan for the future,” District Five Supervisor Tony Wayne Ladner said last week.

Housing federal inmates can be very lucrative for the county.

The feds pay as much as $40 per inmate, per day, officials said.

The type of inmates that would be housed at the new jail would probably be mostly illegal immigrants from the immigration services (ICE), Cuevas said.

The biggest cost to the county with the new jail will be staffing.

Today’s jail standards mandate that jails housing federal prisoners must have a specific ratio of offices per inmates.

Earlier this year, Cuevas said the county would probably need about 50 correctional officers to man the jail.

Currently, there are less than 20 corrections officers employed by the county, and less than 10 have actual experience working in a real jail.

The new jail will include seven cell blocks, a booking center, medical facility, recreation yard, kitchen, laundry, and administrative offices.

Each one of the blocks will contain a series of cells which will be capable of holding different numbers of inmates.
For instance, in the low-security block, the cell will be capable of holding six to eight inmates, whereas in the maximum security area, each cell will only hold one to two inmates, officials said.

The facility is expected to be about 100,000 total square feet, but plans are to try to keep the facility from being intrusive on neighbors.

Supervisors said they plan to allow access to the facility from Hwy. 90 only and also keep a tree-line buffer between the facility and adjacent properties.

The new justice court will be constructed adjacent to the jail facility.

The overall budget for the jail project is $37.5 million.

The money will come from the $200 million Ground Zero Action Plan through HUD.

BY: Dwayne Bremer

The Sea Coast Echo

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