Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson began releasing nonviolent offenders from the Lee County Jail Monday afternoon after supervisors voted to not expand the jail, the Daily Journal reported.

Johnson said he will also limit the number of inmates he accepts to the 20-year-old jail.

Before Johnson began releasing prisoners, the 202-person capacity jail housed 231 prisoners. After the vote, Johnson reduced the number to 203 by releasing many on time-served or by transferring prisoners to state custody. Others were released with a signature bond to assure a court appearance.

The jail has 20 beds for women and 170 beds for men, plus another 12 slots in holding cells.

All of the prisoners released are considered nonviolent, although about one-third faced felony charges carrying a sentence of more than a year if convicted.

“I can’t do anything about the size of the building or the age or the condition of the building,” Johnson told the Daily Journal. “What I can do is control who we accept. By statute, we are required to house county prisoners, those charged in circuit court and chancery court committals.”

The Monday vote by supervisors was on the question of whether to expand the jail, but leaders opted to renovate the existing structure instead.

The threat of a federal court order to reduce overcrowding prompted the county to begin looking at a new jail. A 600-bed facility would cost more than $50 million, but supervisors voted against implementing a tax increase of more than 10 percent to fund the facility.

Lee County and Tupelo leaders signed an agreement 20 years ago when building the jail that the county would accept all Tupelo prisoners as long space is available.

Of the 231 prisoners at the jail Monday afternoon, 101 were Tupelo prisoners. The county had 76 prisoners. The seven smaller Lee County municipalities combined for 23 prisoners.

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