Female felons mixed with misdemeanors in Lee County Jail

As they say, looks can be deceiving. This is the only female pod in the Lee County Jail. The pod is meant to hold 18 prisoners. Currently there are 31 women who have booked into this facility. The make-shift cots you see are called boats. Space is primarily given on a first come, first served basis. The rooms go to those who have been there the longest, the remainder get the boats.

When a 20-something female is picked up for disturbing the peace, she will be placed in the Lee County Jail women’s pod with four murderers.

There’s no solution, no way around it with the current jail which was completed in 1997.

As of Wednesday, at presstime, there were 31 females incarcerated.

“We have one female housing unit, and as you said, the jail is in a pod system. There are seven pods, six are for the males and one is for the females. Inside that pod, there are 18 beds,” said Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson. “With 31 females, according to my Shannon math — that is more than 18. With females it’s very difficult because it’s the only place I can put them.”

Of course, there are many more problems — like one toilet per two inmates in the housing unit. There is one commode downstairs near the shower. There is another shower upstairs. So that means there are two showers for 31 and 10 toilets for 31. Obviously the sleeping arrangement doesn’t add up either.

“The only solution we have is portable bedding, which is a fiberglass boat. It’s put on the ground, within the pod and we give them a mattress and a blanket,” Johnson said. “If you’re in a boat, the toilet you’re going to use is inside a cell, so we have to get those two inmates out so the third can use their facilities or else they use that one extra toilet by the shower downstairs.”

There are currently four females in the unit who are charged with murder. They are Ambra Nicole Zinn, Shawnie Vel Young, Judy Smith and and Justericca Pegues.

Zinn, Young and Smith are awaiting trial here and Pegues hasn’t been indicted yet.

“Four, as you have researched, are here for murder, so it’s hard to mix and mingle them, but you have one exercise room that all of them are in,” Johnson said. “Right now, if you come in with suspended driver’s license you’re going to be in the same area with a murderer.”

That creates an enormous amount of responsibility for jail staff. There are usually four officers watching over those 31 females, two in the tower and two walking the floor.

Precautions are taken to have female staff work the female pod. Those in the tower radio to those on the floor what to check on and what to watch for. The male prison population is kept separate from the females.

“It’s not a problem to physically keep the males away from the females, but visually it’s impossible to keep them away from each other. It’s because of the way the building was designed,” Johnson said. “There are two male units that can see into the female dormitory and visa versa. There’s all sorts of gestures and obscenities which does create problems.”

The last consultant said it would cost nearly $80 million for the construction of a comprehensive law enforcement complex — which would include a jail, administration and court facilties.

The same consultant said this current jail does not meet modern-day standards and the facility was poorly designed from the start.

In January 2018, the Lee County Sheriff’s Department responded to a searies of 911 hang-up calls at the residence of Bobby and Judy Smith, located at Road 1451, in the Mooreville area. Upon arrival, deputies found Bobby’s deceased body. It was apparent that Judy Smith suffered from an injury to her head from a gunshot. She was transported by ambulance to receive medical treatment.

Back in August of 2019, Lee County Sheriffs’ Deputies and Tupelo Police Detectives located and arrested Ambra Zinn, 30. Zinn has been charged with murder relating to a homicide reported August 12 in the 1000 block of Eisenhower Drive.

Back in February of 2020, Pamela Britt, 63, was murdered in her Baldwyn home on East Clayton Street on Tuesday, February 11, during the middle of the day. The cashier at Baldwyn U Save had gone to her home around lunch but never returned to her job. The store’s owner drove to Britt’s house to check on her, where he ran into the alleged attacker as she was leaving the residence, said Baldwyn Police Chief Troy Agnew. The chief said the store owner realized the suspect, 47-year-old Shawnie Vel Young, was lying about why she was there so he called the police.

Back in May 2021, Lorenzin Brown was found dead the evening of Tuesday, May 18, on King Street near Crosstown. The first arrested was Kortoris Burks, 43, of Tupelo on Thursday, May 20. Later that evening Tupelo police also arrested Amari Johnson, 20, of 109 Cook Drive, Aberdeen; and Justericca Pegues, 29, of 1910 Bella Vista, Tupelo.

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