Jail Security

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Sheriff outlines plans to beef up security at jail

By Billy Davis

Panola County Sheriff Otis Griffin, responding to a December 13 inmate escape at the jail, asked county supervisors Monday to review his plans for beefing up security at the department.

In a hand-delivered letter, Griffin suggested adding security cameras, and a perimeter fence and gate, around the building that houses state inmates who participate in the State-County Work Program.

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The sheriff’s department expects to receive an estimate on the fence construction this week, the interim sheriff said.

The department has been unsuccessful in finding grant money for the improvements, he told the board.

Griffin also requested the hiring of two part-time deputies, who would work weekends with the partial responsibility of overseeing the inmates.

Supervisors, who would approve amendments to the sheriff’s department budget, took no action on Griffin’s requests.  

The Panolian has reported that inmates Bobby Joe Wilkerson and Calvin Curry escaped in a courtesy car stolen from the Panola County Airport. They had used dummies in their beds to foil a head count.

The following morning, Griffin found the two inmates in the Curtis community, where both men were known to have family.  

Wilkerson was later hospitalized after a suicide attempt at the jail. He has since recovered and is back at the Miss. State Prison at Parchman, Griffin told The Panolian Monday.

Wilkerson, Curry and other trusties are housed separately from county inmates in a building located behind the sheriff’s department’s main building. The county receives payment from the Miss. Department of Corrections for housing each inmate.  

The building’s doors are not locked because of the potential fire hazard, leaving inmates with easy access to the grounds of the sheriff’s department.

After the incident, alarms were installed on the building’s doors, cameras were being installed, and an employee had been assigned to secure the building, Griffin reported at the time.

Wilkerson and Curry were assigned to Panola County Solid Waste, and supervisors heard Griffin state Monday that inmates are “out there looking” when they ride the garbage trucks.

“They are watching everything,” he said.

Supervisors once considered removing inmates from the garbage trucks after a dispute with late Sheriff Hugh “Shot” Bright over their use. But that disagreement was worked out and the inmates remained.

The county board, just in the past few weeks, has purchased a new garbage truck with a mechanical arm for a trial run.

Griffin also volunteered Monday that the problem of inmates escaping has been a lingering issue.

“This has been going for years and it needs to stop,” Griffin told supervisors without elaborating.

The sheriff said Wilkerson and Curry wore dark clothing to aid their escape but now inmates are prohibited from keeping personal clothing.

“The only colors now are green and white, and black and white,” Griffin said, referring to the striped pants worn by inmates.