MDOC Commissioner: Lincoln Co. Jail under investigation

Published 5:00 am Monday, July 31, 2006

Mississippi’s top Department of Corrections official said Fridaythe recent removal of 20 state inmates from the Lincoln County Jailwas among the first steps the department is taking during aninvestigation of the county lockup.

MDOC Commissioner Chris Epps contradicted a July 19 DAILY LEADERreport in which Sheriff Wiley Calcote labeled as “routine” a jaillockdown and removal of approximately 20 state inmates.

“It’s certainly not routine,” Epps said. “We’re investigatingthe operations of the jail down there, and I have given the orderto remove all the inmates down there.”

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The state reimburses counties for housing state inmates andtheir removal could result in the loss of hundreds of thousands ofdollars in revenue for Lincoln County.

Calcote expressed surprise later Friday when questioned aboutthe inmate removals and the investigation.

“This is news to me,” he said. “We got an order only thismorning asking us to go to Parchman (Penitentiary) to pick somemore up.”

The sheriff said deputies were dispatched Friday afternoon topick up two inmates at the state prison for delivery to the LincolnCounty Jail.

“Ask him if they came back with them,” Epps said later inresponse.

One element of the investigation keys on the jail providingpasses to state inmates, Epps said. Passes allow inmates to leavethe jail unsupervised for a stated length of time.

According to Epps, the sheriff’s department had been warned oncebefore about the practice of issuing passes and jailers hadreceived classes conducted by MDOC officials detailing thecircumstances in which passes were and were not allowed to beissued. He said MDOC concerns on inmate passes were addressedduring a meeting with representatives of “a few” sheriffs’departments from around the state.

Since then, the commissioner said, other inmates had receivedillegitimate passes.

“This is the second time I’ve gone through this with the sheriffyou have down there,” Epps said. “That’s against state law as wellas MDOC policy and procedures. And that’s just an inkling into thisinvestigation.”

The commissioner said he could not elaborate on other elementsof the ongoing investigation.

“It’s been proven already that some have been given passes thatshould not have been, so I’m comfortable saying that,” Eppssaid.

Calcote, however, denied issuing passes without MDOC approval.The sheriff said he never met with Epps previously nor had hisjailers been instructed about passes by MDOC officials.

“We give out very few, and those we do are approved by theDepartment of Corrections,” the sheriff said.

Epps said he presently has two goals regarding the LincolnCounty Jail.

The first is the removal of all state inmates. That began withthe removal of 20 inmates on July 19.

The second, and more severe, is to begin the process of havingthe courts decertify the jail as a place to house stateinmates.

Only an hour after July 19 activity, Calcote said he was glad tosee the inmates removed because the jail “needed some relief.”

“I wish they could come get some more,” he said at the time.

Epps indicated he could accommodate the sheriff.

“My comment to that is we’re going to get them all,” thecommissioner said.

According to Lincoln County Jail records Friday morning, thejail presently houses 31 state inmates, Epps said. Another 20inmates are scheduled to be removed from the jail this week.

“We’ll turn around as quickly as possible to get the other 10,”he said.

The removal of the state inmates could have a significantnegative impact on the jail budget.

Epps estimated MDOC pays Lincoln County more than $306,000 peryear to house 40 state inmates. In addition, the removal of thestate inmates could eventually result in the termination of inmatework crews used by the jail to clean up litter along roadways,clean public buildings and grow food for the kitchen in the jail’sgarden, Epps said.

Assuming prisoners on the inmate work crews made minimum wage,that is an economic hit of more than $428,000 in services that thejail will no longer be able to provide, Epps said.

Unfortunately, the commissioner said, county prisoners are notunder his control and thus will not be removed.

“My concern is the state inmates and how they are handled,” Eppssaid.

District Attorney Dee Bates, representing southwestMississippi’s 14th District, said he could not comment on anyexisting investigation because he may be required to prosecute anycases that develop from it.

“Generally, other agencies do the investigation and we justprosecute the cases,” he said. “Any type of investigation that hasany substance, we will look at.”

Bates said there were no existing lawsuits pending against thejail to his knowledge.