The Daily Corinthian obtained a letter Wednesday from Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps to Rinehart, stating the local facility would receive no more prisoners until the sheriff can demonstrate he can follow proper procedure and enter a plan of action to discontinue unauthorized offender leaves.
The letter is dated Nov. 7 and gives the sheriff until Nov. 29 to respond.
"...Your actions blatantly circumvent MDOC Police and Procedures," wrote Epps to the sheriff. "The actions exhibited by you and your staff have jeopardized public safety for citizens of Alcorn County..."
Rinehart said Wednesday he had not seen the letter, but noted he saw a copy in an e-mail. He said some of the mail still goes to the old jail. He requested a copy of the letter from the Daily Corinthian.
The sheriff said he would respond with a written response to Epps and "let him know we will go by MDOC policy."
"I will assure him this will be taken care of," said Rinehart.
Violations of the Offender Leave Program came to light recently when inmate William "Danny" Whitaker was issued a weekend pass and was found dead on Oct. 26 at his mother's house in Corinth.
Whitaker, 56, was serving time for robbery, burglary and aggravated assault and was not eligible for leave, according to Epps.
The MDOC commissioner noted five other inmates who were granted leave by the sheriff violated the leave program, including Pierre Newman, Bobby Page and Eric Roach, all serving time for armed robbery; Christopher Booker, serving time for manslaughter; and Kelly Smith, serving time for sale of a controlled substance.
"You have implemented a system that allows MDOC offenders passes who were ineligible," wrote Epps.
The commissioner noted facility management was aware passes were not proper procedure, but "were directed to do so by you in your capacity as sheriff of Alcorn County."
Epps included the Inmate Housing Agreement with the letter, "so that you will understand the severity of the situation."
The sheriff said Whitaker was allowed one night away to spend with his sick mother, while Newman met with family at a hotel and was asked to be back the next day.
"They work for the county for free," said the sheriff. "If I felt there was any danger, I wouldn't have done it."
Epps' letter was also sent to State Senator Rita Parks and State Rep. Nick Bain and all Alcorn County supervisors.
Supervisors directed comments to county attorney Bill Davis.
"The Board of Supervisors has received a copy of Commissioner Epps' November 7, 2013 letter to the Sheriff concerning the Alcorn County Regional Correctional Facility," said Davis. "Obviously, the allegations in his letter are very concerning. At this stage, the Board is still analyzing the contents of the letter and is undertaking efforts to gather additional facts.
"It will be critical that an appropriate Plan of Action is submitted addressing the Commissioner's concerns, and the Board is anxious to assist the Sheriff's Department in any way possible in the development and submission of the plan."
(Staff Writer Steve Beavers, who interviewed Sheriff Charles Rinehart in his office Wednesday, contributed to this report.)