Meridian, Miss. For months Newscenter 11 has been reporting about the ongoing problem of overcrowding within the Lauderdale County jail. This is also affecting inmates for the city of Meridian. City officials are currently exploring an option that they say can ease at least some of the problem.
As part of a contract that Meridian has with Lauderdale County, a total of 25 beds at the Lauderdale County jail are reserved for city inmates. As of 2 p.m. Friday, all but eight of those beds were filled.
Meridian Police Chief James Lee told city council members during a work session Friday morning that because of his department's crackdown on crime, the number of available beds for city inmates is sometimes lower than that. To address the problem, some Meridian inmates are also being housed at the jail in Kemper County. However, Chief Lee contends that something more must be done.
That's why he's now asking the council to allow him to reallocate some of his funds for this year. Lee is requesting to use an estimated $80,000 of funding to start utilize holding cells that are inside the new police department.
"It'll help us a little bit," says Mayor Percy Bland. "With everything going on we need to have another option for where we are able to put inmates or people that we have arrested."
"If we can utilize those cells it relieves us of some pressures," says Meridian City Council President, Dr. George Thomas. "It relieves the county jail of pressure. If we could keep 10 to 20 people there rather than having to pay the county $38 a day for short term stays that would be much better for the city and county, but there is no long term plan for the city and there is no long term plan for the county."
There are seven holding cells within the new police department. Chief Lee told council members during the work session that each cell can hold anywhere from four to five people. This is something that he says could definitely curb overcrowding in the larger jails.
Council members are expected to formally vote on the chief's request at their next meeting.
"I think that it'll happen," says Thomas.
Thomas also says that if the money is allocated, some of it will likely be used for bedding in the holding cells and meals for inmates. Meanwhile, Chief Lee says the plan is to use those cells for inmates who are often behind bars for shorter amounts of time. This includes DUI and domestic violence offenders.