- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 14, 2014

MERIDIAN, Miss. (AP) - Police Chief James Lee said the department is considering the use of holding cells for people facing misdemeanor charges in an effort to cut the cost of housing them at the Lauderdale County jail.

Lee told The Meridian Star (https://bit.ly/JZ1y9L) that the county-charged fees are stressing the department.

“We are getting beat to death with these fees,” Lee said. “We can’t legally have a jail at the department. We can, however, use the holding cells for drunks, vagrants, and DUI offenders, while at the same time keeping our allotment of spaces at the jail for more serious criminals.”

Lee explained that, for example, if a drunk is brought to the county jail at 11 p.m. then the jail fee to the city is $38. If that person stays into the early morning hours, past midnight, then the prisoner would cost another $38 because he is being kept at the jail during a different 12-hour period. Lee said that is $76 the city could save if the same person is kept in one of the department’s holding cells. Lee said he has room for 12-14 prisoners.

Lauderdale Sheriff Billy Sollie said the Meridian Police Department would have two years to obtain state certification for its personnel as correctional officers.

In the meantime, Sollie said using the holding cells instead of the county jail leaves the city open to litigation if a prisoner has some sort of problem while being overseen by non-certified staff.

“Their using their holding cells wouldn’t ease our overall census pressure,” Sollie said. “Most of our inmates are either awaiting trials or sentences with state or federal authorities.”

Sollie said 245 of the 290 inmates are felony offenders, with 176 of them facing state or federal charges.

Lee said some Meridian City Council members appear to support the use of holding cells.

Lee said he has asked council members to allocate funding for bedding and meals.

“The first impression is that we would be coming out better by using the holding cells for this reason but more research needs to be done,” City Council President George Thomas said.

“I agree with Sheriff Sollie that there are issues with the possibility of litigation,” he said. “But the jail, even with certified correctional officers, would have to deal with that as well.”

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Information from: The Meridian Star, https://www.meridianstar.com

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