Middleton: Adams County should shut down jail now, contract with Concordia Parish to house inmates

Published 4:51 pm Monday, July 31, 2023

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NATCHEZ — An Adams County supervisor says the transfer of prisoners to a Concordia Parish jail after a “security breach” this weekend reinforces the need to permanently outsource housing of prisoners.

District 1 Adams County Supervisor Wes Middleton said the county could have saved taxpayers in the neighborhood of a million dollars — as well as a lot of grief from a number of dangerous issues that have occurred in the jail  — had county officials contracted with Concordia Parish to house inmates last year.

“About a year ago, we were getting calls from the sheriff almost daily about the dire situation they were in at the jail. My recommendation at that time was to go under agreement with Concordia Parish and try it for a year or two and see how it goes,” Middleton said.

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Middleton took the lead on exploring options for housing inmates that was safer for them and for jail staffers about a year ago. The best option then, he said, was contracting with the Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office.

“In my previous employment, I dealt with prisons on a daily basis. I knew the Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office facility is up to date and professional and houses inmates for multiple parishes,” Middleton said on Monday.

“We all know the jail has been a problem for over 20 years and no one in that time has put a corrective plan in place. “My thinking was, ‘how do we approach getting clearance to move our inmates across state lines and house them in Concordia Parish?’ In my opinion, that is the only logical option we had a year ago and the only option we have now.”

Middleton pointed to more than 20 years of problems with the jail facility as well as the estimated $25 million cost of building a new jail.

“We do not have the funds to do that. If we were ordered to build a new jail, the tax increase needed to do so would be tremendous. It would take a substantial tax increase,” he said.

Middleton said he talked then with Scott Slover, attorney to the Board of Supervisors, and asked that he look into the legality of housing prisons in Concordia Parish. Slover said an order from Sixth District Circuit Court Judge Deborah Blackwell had authorized housing Adams County inmates in the Concordia Parish facility.

“The judge is operating under a state statute that allowed her to address jail needs,” Slover said.

“Everything was good to go, and we had a meeting with Concordia Parish. Concordia Parish was very open to it. They would much rather house inmates from the same area than house them from hours away. It makes good sense to them from a feasibility standpoint,” Middleton said. “Most importantly, they assured us if any county employee were to be laid off at the jail because of this move, they would not miss a day’s work. They would take those employees and hire them.

“At that point, we were thinking at a bare minimum, we would see more than $1 million a year in savings from housing inmates in Concordia Parish. Between the maintenance on the jail, feeding the inmates and staffing, we would save a lot of money,” he said.

Because of economies of scale, feeding inmates in Concordia Parish costs roughly a third of what it costs the Adams County Sheriff’s Office to feed inmates in the Adams County Jail.

In October 2022, he said an event occurred in the Adams County jail and the need arose to transport 10 inmates to Concordia Parish in order to keep them separate from other inmates housed in the jail. Since then, the Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten’s office has transported inmates to Concordia Parish as needed to ease jail overcrowding or when inmates need to be separated.

But Patten previously has said publicly he does not support the full-scale outsourcing of prisoner housing to Concordia Parish or any other facility.

“Had this gone into action eight or 10 months ago, not only would we have saved county taxpayers lots of money, we wouldn’t have had all these issues that have happened at the jail. Also, we could pay deputies more if we didn’t have to spend all the money we have to spend on jail maintenance and repairs. The county’s maintenance man spends 90 percent of his time working at the jail,” Middleton said.

And, Middleton said, the self-described “security breach” that Patten reported on Sunday would not have happened. Patten declined to give details of the security breach, but said Sunday that it had caused a break in a 2-inch water line that flooded the facility causing “tremendous damage within the walls of the facility, several offices and E911 dispatch. Computer and radio equipment were damaged or loss during the flooding,” Patten said.

It also rendered the jail uninhabitable. “The conditions of the jail have reached a point to where it is no longer safe to house staff or inmates,” Patten said.

Middleton said all the female inmates in the jail were taken to the Concordia Parish jail on Sunday and by Monday morning, “Concordia Parish agreed … to take the rest of our inmates,” Middleton said.

About 90 prisoners were on the jail roster as of Sunday.

It’s a move that Middleton endorses and believes should be permanent.

“Being at the Concordia Parish facility is better for our inmates. They have access to outside time, which has got to help with their mental health. It’s better for Adams County at this point in time. And, unfortunately, in today’s world with the cost of good, it’s our only option. They can house prisoners for less money than we can. And it’s a 10-minute drive.

“I think we should send all of our inmates there and contract with Concordia Parish. We should shut down jail operations here. I don’t think we should keep trustees here. I think all we need to do is keep two people on staff to handle transport.

“There are issues that will have to be worked out. It’s going to be a work in progress, but I want to make the decision that is best for everyone in Adams County. With all of the issues we have dealt with lately at the jail, a many of them could have been avoided if we had been proactive last year.”