Jails and justice courts are not the glamorous side of county government but they play a key part in the quality of life in any community.
The ribbon was snipped on the new Coahoma County Justice Center (CCJC) Tuesday with more than two dozen county officials on hand for the morning event.
The $10 million facility was over 10 years in the making and will combine the county’s court, detention and law enforcement offices in one location in northeast Clarksdale.
The state-of-the-art jail is built to hold 143 people, including females, drunks, the mentally ill and can briefly hold juveniles. The new jail will replace the facility downtown that has major structural problems.
“This was not a one man project and your Board of Supervisors worked to make this happen,” said Board of Supervisors President Johnny Newson as he invited all Supervisors to the podium Tuesday. “This project was years in the making and we’ve put money in this facility with an eye on the future of this county.
“We would much rather put money in recreation facilities, schools and shelters,” he added, “but the law says we must have jails.”
Several speakers said the old jail was a lawsuit waiting to happen.
Sheriff Charles Jones said the CCJC was needed, but the fix was not easy.
“Mr. (Otis) Giffin, Darrell Washington and the Board of Supervisors made this happen,” said Jones. “There were times I was ready to give up, but they moved forward. Let me assure you this was a need and not a want for this community.”
Griffin served as county project manager and kept an eye on construction.
He pointed to a clean administration building for the sheriff, formal setting for courts and their offices and a safe and strongly secure facility for inmates.
“I won’t say people can’t escape,” said Griffin, “But they are either going to have to crawl out a six-inch hole, or someone is going to have to let them out a door.”
Benchmark Construction was the prime contractor for the CCJC.
The facility was slated to open in the fall of 2019, but that date was been pushed back several times. The new jail on Desoto Avenue will replace an aging facility on Sunflower Avenue that has roof and foundation problems.
The old jail was facing $5 million in foundation issues when the decision was made to build the justice complex. The old jail has been renovated, but never fixed, several times since it was built in 1996.
The CCJC is basically two buildings: one houses the Sheriff’s office and Justice Court offices and courtrooms; the second building is the Coahoma County Jail. The idea is those arrested by the city or county are brought to one location and can be safely and securely moved for their day in court.
Benchmark foreman Sylvester Fleming pointed out features such as the sally port where cars with prisoners can be brought in, building doors closed, and then prisoners gotten out of patrol cars.
There are video cameras in virtually every room with a central guard station that sports computer monitors covering the jail inside and out.
The jail can house up to 155 inmates with up to 21 of those being female. Men are housed in barracks of roughly 16 beds each.
The facility also has separate and exceedingly secure lock-down cells, a padded cell and a drunk tank.
Building the CCJC was not without its problems.
Contactors were hit with heavy spring rains in 2019 as site construction got underway and pushed getting the facility plumbed, framed, roofed and dry into late summer. And COVID-19 hit in 2020.
The county has also been hit with contractors saying some work was not in the initial price, specifically computers, communication equipment and installation of both.
Major costs not anticipated included radio tower construction overruns and the city’s demands for specific design features on electricity, water and sewer.
The county secured a local and private bill from the state to borrow $2 million to finish the facility and build a county fire station north of town
The county is using a general obligation bond to pay for the facility. Supervisors began looking hard at the possibility of a justice complex in January 2016 when they recognized increasing maintenance costs and needs to improve offices for both the sheriff and justice court loomed on the horizon.
The CCJC will allow the public to handle all county court and law enforcement business at one spot. Having deputies in and out at the Sheriff’s Department also provides additional manpower at the jail in the event of an emergency.
The county built a road to the site and the parking lot at their expense.
The new jail will actually be smaller than the existing jail which has 177 beds.