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Inmate Migration?

The number of inmates at 201 Poplar drops, while the DeSoto County Jail struggles with overcrowding.

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A little over a year ago, Shelby County sheriff Mark Luttrell asked the County Commission for money to build a new jail. The current facility at 201 Poplar was overcrowded, and Luttrell worried that more arrests would lead to major strains on jail infrastructure.

Fast forward to spring 2008: Shelby County still is housing inmates in the facility, but the jail's population has decreased 7 percent. Luttrell says he'd still like a new jail, but now it's the DeSoto County Jail in Mississippi that is overcrowded.

At press time, the DeSoto County Jail was housing 402 inmates though it was built to hold only 370.

"We're having to house more inmates per cell, and that means some don't have a bed to sleep on," says DeSoto County sheriff Bill Rasco. "We have to give them a mattress, and they sleep on the floor."

Rasco hired six more jailers last week, and he's pushing the county to build a minimum-security work center that would house nonviolent offenders. Inmates at the work center would pick up trash and earn money toward paying off their fines.

"Right now, they're getting out of jail and aren't able to pay off their fines, so they end up back in jail," Rasco says.

The DeSoto County Jail is under court order from the Mississippi Department of Corrections to reduce capacity by July 1st or the department will transfer the 27 state inmates housed at the facility somewhere else.

"State inmates do the cooking, cleaning, and laundry for the jail," Rasco says. "County inmates may only be here six to 10 days, but you can put long-term state inmates in the kitchen, and they can learn over a period of time."

Meanwhile, due to a decrease in inmates, in March the Shelby County Sheriff's Office vacated a holding facility at the County Correction Center in Shelby Farms. That building once housed about 250 inmates.

"We haven't seen the rush of Blue Crush arrests over the last few months, and we do know that crime is down slightly," Luttrell says. He anticipates a slight population increase in the summer, but for now, he's been able to cut 22 vacant staff positions and reduce overtime expenditures.

Is it possible that some Shelby County criminals have migrated south to DeSoto County? Luttrell says it is a possibility.

"It could very well be that what they're experiencing in DeSoto County is due to the fact that it's a growing metropolitan area, and some of the crime you typically associate with urban areas is starting to crop up down there," Luttrell says. "Some of that may be coming out of Shelby County."

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