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US Justice Department: Harrison County jail much improved; time to end federal supervision

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Justice Department officials say it's time to end 20 years of supervision over the Harrison County jail.

Civil Rights Division attorneys joined county attorneys in court papers Tuesday saying the county has made improvements required under a 1995 agreement.

"Security, medical, and mental health staffing have all been substantially increased, staff members are better trained, and internal quality assurance mechanisms are now in place," Vanita Gupta, head of the division, said in a news release.

"We're very excited about it," Connie Rockco, president of the Harrison County Board of Supervisors, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Gulfport. She said the county has spent more than $16 million since 1995 to improve and maintain the jail.

The agreement won't be official until Chief District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. signs it, she noted.

The county has been making improvements under an agreement reached in 1995 to end a Justice Department lawsuit accusing the county of violating inmates' civil rights.

Sheriff Martin Brisolara asked supervisors nearly a year ago to ask the Justice Department about ending the consent decree. He was not immediately available Tuesday for comment.

The Justice Department sued Harrison County in January 1995. Both sides worked together, "largely without any need to involve the Court," federal and state attorneys wrote in court papers.

Both federal inspections and reviews and county reports have confirmed the improvements, the memorandum said.

It said improvements include required training for all detention officers; inmates' access to law materials; many more doctors, psychiatrists and mental health staffers; a chronic care program; improved medication practices; suicide screening and mental health treatment; and new auditing and quality assurance mechanisms.

"Many of the improvements, especially those regarding security practices and supervision of prisoners, have been in effect for a sustained period of time," the attorneys noted.

Rockco said, "We've worked really hard and gone above and beyond. I don't think you'll find a better run jail."

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