Harrison County

How much will a new youth jail cost Harrison County?

The outdoor recreation area at the Harrison County Juvenile Detention Center in Biloxi.
The outdoor recreation area at the Harrison County Juvenile Detention Center in Biloxi. jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com File

Harrison County is taking the first steps toward building a new juvenile jail.

This week, the county advertised for proposals to provide engineering services to design and build a jail in Biloxi near the site of the current youth jail. Monday, the Board of Supervisors will consider appointing a committee to review and evaluate those proposals. The committee likely will include one supervisor, County Administrator Pam Ulrich, Sheriff Troy Peterson or his appointee, Youth Court Administrator Cindy Alexander and county engineer Danny Boudreaux.

The main purpose, said Youth Court Judge Margaret Alfonso, the main proponent of replacing the jail, is to determine how much it will cost. She said regardless of what it costs, the jail should be built.

“We are in desperate need of a new facility,” she said. “I don’t think it has to be a big facility.”

She said the jail would need to be big enough to house a maximum of 25 juveniles. She is an advocate of keeping children out of the facility through alternative programs such using ankle bracelets to monitor them while on house arrest. The county earlier this year agreed to pick up the tab for the monitors after the state cut money for them out of its budget.

“The purpose of the jail is to house those who are a danger or a flight risk,” she said.

She said one possible solution is a multi-story building built on the parking lot of the old Health Department building at 761 Esters Blvd in Biloxi, where the Youth Court moved earlier this year. That would have a level for parking, a level for administrative office and a level for the jail, she said.

The current jail, across McElroy Street from the Youth Court, could then be torn down and used for more parking, she said.

The jail has a dark past.

In 1982, it was an adult jail when a fire started by an inmate killed 27 prisoners and injured at least 43 others. It was later remodeled and turned into the Juvenile Detention Center.

In 2009, to settle a couple of lawsuits, the county agreed to deal with a wide variety of problems at the jail, including crowding. Last year, the Youth Court moved from its “trailer park” in Gulfport to the building vacated by the Health Department when it closed its Biloxi office.

Last August, a county grand jury recommended a larger building for the jail.

Paul Hampton: 228-284-7296, @JPaulHampton