Local leaders meet to talk prison’s future

Published 12:15 am Sunday, August 28, 2016

NATCHEZ — City and county leaders met Friday with Adams County Correctional Center officials to determine what they can do to keep the prison open.

The meeting was setup in response to the news that the U.S. Department of Justice is seeking to either decline or substantially reduce contracts with private prison owners. Corrections Corporation of America, which owns ACCC, is one of three private prison companies that operate the Bureau of Prison’s 13 privately operated facilities, including ACCC.

Mayor Darryl Grennell, Adams County supervisors Mike Lazarus, David Carter and Calvin Butler and Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten met with ACCC Warden David Berkebile and an official from CCA.

Email newsletter signup

Lazarus said after talking with prison officials he and other leaders plan to reach out to the area’s U.S. Congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., to express their support for the prison.

“We are going to talk especially to Sen. Thad Cochran, who is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee,” Lazarus said. “He has a lot of pull.”

Lazarus said prison officials said the federal bureau of prisons’ contract with CCA for Adams County’s prison would end in December 2017.

“They will have the contract for at least that long,” Lazarus said.

Depending on what happens between now and then will help determine the future of ACCC, Lazarus said.

“They said they have other options. They can turn it into another type of prison,” Lazarus said. “Obviously, they want to keep doing what they are now doing.”

Grennell said what happens in November could likely affect what happens with the prison.

“The national leadership will play a major role in how things will trickle down to the local level,” Grennell said.

The move to end contracts with private prisons came after a DOJ report that cited the safety and security problems associated with private prisons.

The deadly prison riot at ACCC in 2012, which resulted in the death of correctional officer Catlin Carithers, appears to have been among the factors prompting the DOJ investigation of private prisons.

ACCC was cited in the report for a striking number of cellphone contraband incidents.

Sheriff Patten said prison officials specifically asked leaders to help better prosecute those responsible for contraband incidents.

Prosecuting the cases will help deter future contraband incidents.

“They asked that we stand with them to help prosecute these cases,” Patten said. “We have a great DA and great judges that we will ask for help on this issue.”

Patten said he is 100 percent behind the prison staying and he will do whatever he can for it to remain.

Lazarus and Grennell agreed.

“I want to do everything I can to keep the prison alive,” Grennell said.

As one of the supervisors that played a crucial role in bringing the facility to Adams County, Grennell said that in addition to the loss of jobs and taxes a lot of time and money was spent on developing the project and building infrastructure.

Last year the prison paid nearly $2 million in taxes to the county.

“We are already trying to recruit other businesses and industry to come here,” Lazarus said. “We don’t want to lose one that is already here.”

Friday’s meeting took place at Natchez Coffee Company without public notice. With three supervisors in attendance, the “informal” meeting may have violated Mississippi’s open meetings laws.

In the past, the Mississippi Supreme Court has ruled, that under the state’s open meetings act, when a quorum of leaders is present and official actions can take place the meeting must be open, even if official actions are not taken.

Three supervisors counts as a quorum of the Adams County Board of Supervisors.

Lazarus said Friday’s meeting was informational and that county attorney Scott Slover said such meetings are not considered public meetings.

Slover said in a text message Saturday that Friday’s meeting was “an informal meeting regarding CCA’s future going forward, which would not be subject to the open meetings act.”

“If there were any comments that would fall under the act, they were incidental and impromptu, based on what was explained to me.” Slover said.