County Jail Fence

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 22, 2010

Sheriff agrees to scale back fencing

By Billy Davis

Panola County’s interim sheriff agreed Wednesday to a smaller-scale plan for encircling state inmates with fencing and razor wire at the county jail.

“I don’t have a problem with that,” Sheriff Otis Griffin said of a supervisor’s request that he scale back plans for 1,600 feet of fencing.

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Griffin is seeking to erect the fencing, equal to the span of five football fields, around the grounds of the sheriff’s department following the escape of two inmates.

Board president Gary Thompson, citing budget constraints, asked Griffin to consider securing only a single building that houses state trusties who participate in the State-County Work Program.  

The sheriff is beefing up security after the December 13 escape of trusties Bobby Joe Wilkerson and Calvin Curry. The pair used dummies in their beds to foil a guard’s head count then fled jail property in the county’s airport courtesy car.

Griffin spotted the stolen car several hours later in the Curtis community, where the escapees have family.

Wilkerson and Curry were housed with minimum security, since the building’s doors must remain unlocked due to the obvious fire hazard. After the escape, cameras have been installed and alarms placed on the building’s doors, Griffin has reported.

Griffin, at a county meeting last week, presented a $23,637 quote for new fencing from Sideline Fence Co. That quote is significantly lower than a second quote, for $38,027, from Memphis Fence Co. because Sideline is willing to use inmate labor.

Griffin further explained to supervisors Wednesday that Memphis Fence, due to insurance requirements, is prohibited from using inmate labor.

A Panolian reporter, who called the company before Wednesday’s meeting, was also told that inmate labor was not allowed.   

In addition to cameras and alarms, Griffin has requested the hiring of two part-time guards to watch the work program trusties. Supervisors, when they met last week, approved the hirings.

But those hirings were met with a belated protest Wednesday, when District 4 Supervisor Kelly Morris pointed out that Griffin had not amended his department’s budget to reflect the unplanned hirings.

Amendments to Panola County government’s various budgets must be conveyed to the Board of Supervisors, and approved by it, during the fiscal year.

“It’s not in Otis’s budget to hire anybody,” Morris told his colleagues. “I think he needs to amend his budget so we can see the numbers.”

Thompson, responding to Morris, asked Griffin to return with a new quote for fencing the work program building, and also show the cost of the two new hirings. Any amendment to the budget would include both figures, he said.