The Lafayette County Detention Center is making improvements including the installation of money and educational kiosks and the building of a new, expanded commissary room.
Sheriff Joey East and Jail Administrator Johnny McDonald spoke with The Daily Mississippian about these improvements.
When the COVID-19 pandemic became widespread in the spring of 2020, the correctional facility was forced to find new ways of keeping daily operations running smoothly. On top of this, the sheriff’s department wanted to make sure the lives of the inmates remained active despite restricted visitation hours and activities.
One of the first improvements was the installation of 19 new kiosks. Two of these are money kiosks where inmates can load cash onto their cards. They can then use the cards to purchase things like soda, chips and popcorn. This process is part of the center’s effort to go paperless. Medical records are also going digital.
The funds collected within this commissary will in turn go toward purchasing books and other materials for the inmates.
In addition to the money kiosks, there will be 17 kiosks where inmates can video chat with their families, send emails and utilize educational programs. They can use their cards to pay for the email and video chatting features. They can also use the kiosks to go virtually to court hearings and appear before a judge. The latter is something that will definitely continue even after in-person trials return, according to East.
With the educational programs, inmates will have access to a library of law books and, eventually, a General Education Development program. The GED program is one of East’s main goals after losing their existing GED program once the state went paperless.
The kiosks are especially helpful when it comes to connecting inmates to their families. Since the center mostly holds federal inmates, many of them are from different parts of the United States and are unable to receive regular visits. The kiosks will be beneficial in keeping them connected.
In addition to the kiosks, East said that other activities, like painting and cleaning up the building, have increased and improved since lockdowns began in 2020.
“We brightened it up and spent a good bit of time on that,” East said.
Another project the sheriff’s office is working on is the expansion of the facility’s commissary room. Construction is currently underway to attach a new room to the back of the building. Here, snacks and other items will be available for trustees to go in and buy on the behalf of the inmates.
The exact date of completion for the new commissary room is unknown, but McDonald is hopeful that it will be open soon.
The next step for the detention center is obtaining pods that can be checked out at no cost and brought into cells for inmates to review their cases and read education materials without having to use the kiosks.
This Thursday, the inmates will have access to the first alcohol and drug class offered at the center. The state recently approved these classes, and they will become a regular event.
With the implementation of the kiosks, East continues an effort to modernize the facility. Because his father was the sheriff for 50 years before him, East grew up visiting the center. He wants to add to his father’s legacy by bringing the center into the digital age. He credits McDonald with helping him achieve this.
All of these new improvements are centered around improving the lives of the roughly 160 inmates currently residing in the detention center.
“We want to try to bring people out better than it came in,” East said.