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franklin county times

Delayed Newton County jail project gets new start

By Staff
CONSTRUCTION SITE Chief Deputy Bill Truhitt looks over the unfinished Newton County jail. The project to build the new jail began last spring but has been at a standstill since the original contractor went bankrupt four months ago. Photo by Paula Merritt/The Meridian Star
By William F. West / community editor
Dec. 2, 2002
DECATUR Plagued by problems not of their making, local officials here expect to vote today to jumpstart construction of a new Newton County jail.
They've not questioned the need for replacing the cramped and outdated 18-bed lockup currently in use. They even have the funding.
The problem has been getting a new contractor to finish construction of a more than $2 million, 66-bed structure that will also house the Sheriff's Department and Emergency 911.
Construction began in the spring but has remained idle for about four months since the original contractor on the job went belly up. Now, county officials say, a new contractor has agreed to finish the job.
Supervisors are scheduled to give the go-ahead today on restarting construction of the new jail, to be located off Highway 15 on the south side of Decatur.
Supervisor Milton Smith said plans call for awarding the contract to Benchmark Construction of Jackson, replacing Warren Construction of Crystal Springs.
Officials broke ground on the new site in April. Work was halted in early August after rumblings that subcontractors hadn't received payments from Warren.
Smith said that after Warren went bankrupt, it was up to a bonding company, RLI of Peoria, Ill., to find another contractor to finish the job. He said supervisors will sign a deal with Benchmark at 11 a.m. and also sign papers releasing Warren from future claims.
The project is being funded by a bond issue.
Mixed feelings
Smith is upbeat about restarting the project but has mixed feelings given Warren's collapse.
Smith said even after Warren lost the job, a consultant for the bonding company assured him that construction would resume by the first of October.
Supervisor James Smith also expressed similar feelings.
The present jail is in the courthouse in downtown Decatur. It was on the second floor but was moved to the first floor with the renovation of the entire building in 1972. E-911 is also in the courthouse, while the sheriff's department is across the street.
Overflow of inmates
Even in a rural county such as Newton, crime has become an increasing problem over 30 years, filling the jail to capacity.
The idea of replacing it has been discussed for quite a few years, Sheriff Jackie Knight said.
Knight said maintaining the jail is an expensive proposition, with the situation so bad that his department has to spend hundreds of dollars to replace sinks and toilets with stainless steel fixtures.
Knight declined to disclose exactly how many inmates were jailed last week, citing concerns over the potential for lawsuits. Mississippi law says a sheriff's jail log is considered public information.
Knight said no one told him or the county to build a new jail.

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