Sheriff agrees on deal to host city inmates

Published 12:05 am Tuesday, October 17, 2017

NATCHEZ — After a tense day of back-and-forth on the issue, city and county leaders agreed in principle Monday to house city inmates in the county jail, potentially providing significant saving to the city’s police department.

Natchez Police Chief Walter Armstrong attended the Adams County Board of Supervisors meeting and brought up the matter when prompted for an update from Supervisor Mike Lazarus.

Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten was not present. Armstrong said at a September board of alderman meeting he had been working with Patten on a plan to reduce the need for two, duplicated jails and related staff. The city spends approximately $250,000 per year on jail staff.

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Lazarus said he had not been able to talk to the sheriff about the issue in detail, but he understood the sheriff had some concerns.

Adams County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Charlie Sims then relayed a message from the sheriff.

“He wants nothing to do with the City of Natchez’s proposal for the jail,” Sims said, before leaving the meeting.

City attorney Robert Latham, who was also present, said Sims’ account of the sheriff’s opinion was what the city needed to know. But resident Kevin Wilson spoke up from the audience and said he was not satisfied.

“We are probably one of the few cities in Mississippi that still has a city and a county jail,” Wilson said. “For him to just say I don’t want to have anything to do with it, I don’t understand that a bit. The city is trying to save money and pay the county to house inmates. I don’t see what the problem would be.”

Armstrong said in August, he and the sheriff had spoken about Adams County housing the city’s pretrial inmates. Armstrong said in August, the sheriff seemed to support the idea. Then Armstrong said he did not hear from the sheriff for a while.

When Armstrong reached back out to the sheriff, the chief said Patten told him supervisors had taken issue with the deal. Armstrong asked supervisors if that was the case.

The supervisors present, all but David Carter who was out of town, either shook their head no or verbally said they had not expressed problems with it.

“I pay city and county taxes,” Lazarus said. “I am all for saving money. I hope this works out.”

District 3 Supervisor Angela Hutchins said all of the supervisors are for saving money.

District 4 Supervisor Ricky Gray said when he joined the supervisors after being a city alderman Patten was talking about building a new county jail. Gray said he thought the city should have been involved in that process.

“That is the vision I have,” Gray said. “If we can get the city involved, we can just build one jail.”

Armstrong said the city and county working together makes sense because the city averages only six inmates per day.

Meanwhile, Armstrong said the county jail averages having 60-65 available beds.

Armstrong said inmates from the U.S. Marshals Service, Mississippi Highway Patrol and other counties in some instances are able to utilize the jail without jumping through the hoops the county is putting the city through.

“We are not asking for anything that is not already being rendered to someone with zero connections with the county,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong said the city is even willing to pay. Armstrong offered $25 per day, per inmate.

County Administrator Joe Murray said $25 per day is what the federal government pays to house inmates.

Murray said his only question was about liability, about which Hutchins also expressed concern.

Latham said the city would be responsible for the inmates’ medical costs as well as the liability.

“It would not be any more for the county for our inmates,” Latham said. “We have our policy to cover anything that happens.”

Latham and Armstrong then left and the board went into executive session. During executive session, Patten showed up, and Armstrong, Latham and Mayor Darryl Grennell were called to the meeting.

When Armstrong arrived, Patten suggested the two of them go into a back room to work out details. Slover, Grennell and Latham also attended.

After approximately 30 minutes, the group returned to the meeting and Slover said they had reached an agreement for $30 per inmate, per day the county houses for the city.

Supervisors did not take any action on the issue, since by this point Gray had left to attend a funeral and the others wanted Carter and Gray to be present for the vote. The board will discuss the issue again at a 3:30 p.m. Thursday meeting.

Armstrong thanked supervisors and Patten for affording the city the opportunity to house its inmates.

Grennell said he hoped the city and county could work together on other partnerships as well.

“If we have a resource in the city, don’t hesitate,” Grennell said. “Just let us know whatever we can do to work in harmony and synergy in this community.”

District 5 Supervisor Calvin Butler said a clear winner does exist for the city and county working together.

“The winners are the citizens of Adams County,” Butler said. “They won today.”

“And the bad guys lose,” Armstrong replied.

“This jail situation is bigger than the sheriff and I. There should not and will not be any division as far as I am concerned when it comes to public safety.”

Patten did not express his concerns at the meeting, but afterward said he had three issues.

4The speed at which the process was moving.

4The impact on city jailers who will lose their jobs.

4Ensuring the city paid enough to offset the true cost to the county.

“I don’t believe in making a decision like that by myself when there are so many integral players in the game,” Patten said. “I wanted to make sure before I made a final decision on this that I had contacted everyone, got their input and made an intelligent decision on what should be a contract moving forward.

“We won’t be bringing on additional staff for this,” Patten said. “But that is (Natchez Police Department’s) call on how they handle that.”

Patten said he believes a miscommunication caused Armstrong’s belief that Patten said supervisors did not support the plan.

“What I said was, when me and him talked, was I want to take this up with the supervisors and address any concerns they may have,” Patten said. “I had not talked to the supervisors at that time.”

Patten said he looks forward to a bright future between the county and the city.

“We are definitely working toward a better relationship for sure,” Patten said.