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Epps: State inmates may return to jail soon

Following Sheriff Wiley Calcote’s resignation earlier this week,Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps saidWednesday that state inmates could soon return to the LincolnCounty Jail.

“We’re getting ready to do some business with Lincoln County,”said Epps, who spoke with new Sheriff Steve Rushing Wednesday aboutthe state inmates’ return.

Rushing, who was appointed sheriff Tuesday after Calcoteresigned, said he and Epps had a “good conservation” and he waslooking forward to working with the commissioner to get approval tohouse state inmates in the county jail.

“We’re in the process of working that out and we’re going to dowhat we can to facilitate that,” Rushing said.

Epps had ordered state inmates removed from the county lockup inmid-July and early August. He cited infractions by the sheriff’sdepartment and Calcote, specifically, for the removal.

Epps and federal officials permitted an order allowing theLincoln County Jail to house state inmates to expire Aug. 12. Thecommissioner said at the time he would not authorize the jail tohouse state inmates as long as the sheriff supervised theoperations of the jail.

The inmates’ removal and pending return is significant in thatthe state reimburses the county $20 a day for housing stateinmates, who are also available for work crews that provide avariety of services to the county. Epps estimated the financialimpact of the inmates, in actual dollars given to the county and inthe value of work done by the inmates, was approximately $360,000 ayear.

“There’s an extreme value in it,” Rushing said about havingstate inmates here. “There’s no doubt it benefits the county.”

Previously, the county jail was approved to house 20 stateinmates, Epps said. The commissioner said he would be talking withRushing, inmate rights attorney Ron Welch and others involved inthe jail approval process to get the Lincoln County Jailrecertified to house state inmates.

“The bottom line is we will be applying to get the jailcertified and we will provide whatever training Sheriff Rushingneeds,” said Epps.

The commissioner said he and Welch would be coming to inspectthe jail. He did not give a timetable for the certificationprocess, but said it is possible state inmates could be housed inthe county jail again “in a week or two.”

Rushing did not identify any specific tasks the inmates would bedoing once they are returned. He said he wanted to follow MDOCguidelines regarding what inmates are allowed to do.

In a plea agreement Tuesday, Calcote resigned as sheriff andpleaded guilty to a single count of embezzlement by a publicofficial. The charge involved the misappropriation of 331 gallonsof diesel the county received in the wake of Hurricane Katrina thatwas converted for Calcote’s personal use.

Under the agreement, the remaining 12 felonies and twomisdemeanors will not be pursued. Those charges included furthercharges of embezzlement, fraud, tampering with witnesses andproviding improper passes to the jail inmates.

District Attorney Dee Bates said the investigation of the formersheriff was a joint effort by many agencies, including MDOC, andrevealed “various irregularities in the supervision of stateinmates in the county jail by Calcote.” The investigation, he said,led to the removal of state inmates from the jail and the publiccontroversy between Calcote and Epps.

Calcote admitted no guilt in charges related to the supervisionof the jail during Tuesday’s court proceedings, but his resignationopened the possibility for the return of state inmates.

Bates said that was one of the reasons for expediting the pleaagreement.

“Hopefully, with the removal of Calcote, those inmates can bereturned and the payment of state funds received by the county fortheir housing can be resumed,” Bates said after Tuesday’s courtactivity.

The removal of state inmates from the Lincoln County Jail wasexpected to result in a funding shortfall of nearly 21 percent ofthe jail budget, according to County Administrator DavidFields.

Fields said MDOC reimbursed the county more than $121,600 forhousing state inmates in 2005. The total jail budget for the fiscalyear was just over $585,000.