Epps, Calcote ramp up jail controversy

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, August 2, 2006

A verbal feud between Mississippi Department of CorrectionsCommissioner Chris Epps and Lincoln County Sheriff Wiley Calcoteescalated Tuesday with each questioning the other’s truthfulnessand the sheriff saying he has retained a personal attorney formatters related to an investigation of the county jail.

Epps said Lincoln County jailers received training May 11, 2005,at the Central Mississippi Training Facility. He said the sheriffand approximately six Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department jailerswho were present were not required to sign in.

The commissioner’s statement Tuesday challenged Calcote’scomment – published Sunday in a story about an MDOC investigationof inmate oversight practices and the county jail – that thedepartment had not been instructed about passes by correctionsofficials. Calcote has denied discussing the inmate situation withEpps.

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“I don’t think the sheriff takes these felons, state law or MDOCpolicies seriously,” Epps said. “That’s based on his actions.”

In response, Calcote said all questions regarding the jailinvestigation should be directed to his personal attorney, whom hedid not identify.

“It’s all lies. Nothing but lies,” he said. “My attorney will doall my comments for me. We will make a reply to it this week.”

Ron Welch, a federal prison official and inmate advocate who isoften at odds with MDOC, Tuesday affirmed Epps’ statements thatCalcote attended the inmate training session. Welch said heremembered the training session clearly because it was the firsttime he met the sheriff.

The seminar was designed specifically to address inmate workprograms and the issuance of work and three-day passes, Welch said.Passes allow inmates to leave the jail unsupervised for a givenperiod of time.

That makes it directly related to the present investigation ofLincoln County Jail activities, Welch said.

“He knew what was expected of him and should not be surprised bythis investigation,” the attorney said about Calcote.

One aspect of the state agency’s investigation involves thesheriff’s department allegedly issuing improper passes to inmates.Calcote has denied the practice.

A second element of the investigation allegedly involves thesheriff allowing unclassified inmates outside of the jail.

“Right now, we know of three times,” Epps said. “But we’re stillinvestigating. We’re going to get to the bottom of this.”

Unclassified inmates are those who have not been evaluated forminimum, medium or high security, Epps said. That determination isbased on several factors, including criminal background and mentalcondition.

In addition, the commissioner said, unclassified inmates havenot received a medical screening to determine if they arephysically capable of working safely on outdoor work details.

“We’re not going to tolerate any sheriff not following state lawand MDOC policies regarding the inmates,” Epps said.

Epps rejected any characterization that Lincoln County was beingsingled out by MDOC.

“It’s not to pick on Lincoln County,” Epps said. “If the sheriffhadn’t let these inmates go home on passes, it wouldn’t have cometo my attention.”