While Germany leads committee exploring new jail, supervisors ‘just kicking the tires’

Published 1:27 pm Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

NATCHEZ — Debbie Germany gave an update at Monday’s meeting of the Adams County Board of Supervisors — and asked for an update — on her work leading a committee exploring options for a new county jail.

In early March, Germany told the supervisors that a private company planned to donate more than 30 acres on U.S. 61 north of Natchez to be used to house a new county jail or criminal justice complex.

Neither Germany nor anyone associated with the Board of Supervisors has named that company. However, it is widely speculated that the land being donated belongs to Jordan Carriers or one of its owners.

Email newsletter signup

Germany asked County Attorney Scott Slover where the legal process of accepting that donation stands.

“The landowners have a document. Hopefully by the next meeting we will have something to discuss and approve,” Slover said.

Germany said $50,000 is needed to complete a survey and two specific tests which will help experts to calculate costs, including the price of the complex.

“The problem is, you need that information to figure out what the cost is. I am working with Ward Peterson with Southwest Planning to see what funding is available to help with that. We also need some money for a feasibility study, a more complete one than we have right now,” Germany said.

She said the Department of Justice has reached out and recommended those involved in the planning process receive free training from the National Institute of Corrections.

“They plan to be here July 9 through 11 for three days of training for the sheriff and police chief and would love to have a supervisor if not all three days at least some of the days they are here. They need for you to see what goes on, what we need to do to look forward 10 years or 20 years for this facility. They would like Scott (Slover), Stephanie (Washington, county administrator) and anyone on the criminal justice committee to attend,” Germany said. “Looking at their agenda, it’s very thorough and I think you need to go through this to get to the best result at the end.”

‘Just kicking the tires’

None of the supervisors commented on Germany’s report or expressed interest in attending the free training, other than Supervisor’s President Kevin Wilson, who asked Germany to repeat the dates of the training.

Contacted after the meeting, Wilson acknowledged the county needs a new jail.

“We do have to have a jail of some sort. It doesn’t have to be a huge jail. We just have to have a place to put our people. What we have now — the existing county jail — is not working at all,” Wilson said. “It has worked out pretty decently running inmates over to the Concordia Parish facility, but that has had its problems. It’s a jail. It’s going to have problems. We have had one or two deaths over there and we still are trying to find out what happened to the last one. A county our size needs a jail, and maybe taking on other prisoners may help pay for it.”

How the county would pay for a jail is the overriding question, he said.

One company, Sustainability Partners of Chandler, Arizona, is offering to construct, own and maintain a jail for Adams County for an annual lease.

“I would have to see the number per month versus what we are paying now,” Wilson said. “We certainly can’t spend more than we are spending now.”

He said he is not sure the Department of Justice can come into the county and force it to build a new jail facility.

“I’m not sure they could do that, but they can certainly shut us down, and I don’t know where we would be. Sixty to 70 percent of our inmates now are taken across the river. The others who are still in the jail are basically working every day, helping keep trash picked up,” he said.

The county has been very careful about not allotting any money to a new jail project to date.

“The land has been donated. Environmental work and borings are needed there to make sure it wasn’t a landfill at one time and to measure the stabilization of the soil. We have not agreed to pay that yet. We are just in the preliminary stages right now. We are not all in on building a jail. We are just kicking the tires.”

District 1 Supervisor Wes Middleton said his opinion on what to do about the Adams County Jail hasn’t changed in two years.

“At this point in time, Adams County is in no position to take on any more debt. I have been a proponent for contracting these services for two years. I’m not saying down the road it would be something I would be opposed to, but right now, it does not fit,” he said. “We cannot afford a new jail.”

Further, Middleton said he thinks the existing county jail should be completely closed.

“It was never my intention to continue operating our jail and contracting out only some inmates. It’s not a savings if we don’t contract all inmates there,” he said. “I really don’t know if contracting out inmates to Concordia Parish is a long-term solution, but I think it is the only solution we have at this current moment. When this came up two years ago, I said if we commit to try it, and try it for a year or two, I would be the first to say I was wrong if it didn’t work, but it is working. But it must be done right and we aren’t doing it right. All inmates should be going to Concordia Parish and our jail should be shut down completely.”

District 3 Supervisor Angela Hutchins said she is definitely in favor of building a new jail.

“No, we have not committed to building a new jail, but there is definitely a need,” she said. “Our current jail was built in 1975 and it is obsolete. I traveled along with Debbie Germany and the sheriff to Simpson County to look at their jail, and their jail is totally different. When you are dealing with an upstairs jail…jails are totally different today.

“Simpson County had its justice court and all of the offices there and so that is ideal for this new jail. Our justice court building is so small and could go into a new jail complex,” Hutchins said. “I am in favor of it. The only problem now is how are we going to finance it.”

She said she is not in favor of a financing mechanism that would build a jail the county would pay for, but never own, which is basically what Sustainability Partners is offering.

“I am not in favor of that. We will have to look at that again, but you are talking about financing this jail and we would never own it. I have a problem with that, taxpayers paying for something they would never own,” she said.

Hutchins suggested going in with the city to share a criminal justice complex perhaps is an option.

“Maybe we can do an interlocal agreement with the city,” she said.

Neither District 4 Supervisor Ricky Gray nor District 5 Supervisor Warren Gaines responded to texts and detailed voicemail messages seeking comment.