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Sheriffs say moving inmates will cost counties, taxpayers

Area sheriffs believe a plan to remove about 500 state inmatesfrom county work programs will hit taxpayers right in theirpocketbooks.

The plan got the sheriffs’ attention recently when CorrectionsCommissioner Robert Johnson sent a letter stating that legislatorswere requesting more inmates be kept in regional jails and privateprisons that are not funded by the state.

A state report Thursday said fewer inmates than expected wouldbe needed to be moved. Johnson, however, said as many as 250inmates may still have to be relocated from county jails to themore expensive housing.

The move could include the loss of trusties — non-violentoffenders who perform a variety of tasks for no charge whileserving time. Trusties save counties a significant amount of moneyevery year with their services.

“It will be a devastating blow to the county, you can believethat,” said Copiah County Sheriff Frank Ainsworth. “If they dothat, they’re going to put a hard time on our jails.”

The shuffle of trusties means more employees would have to behired to maintain jail and courthouse facilities.

“Taxpayers never had to pay for a car wash or the clean uparound the courthouse or for janitorial services in the jailbecause the trusties do it,” said Franklin County Sheriff JamesNewman.

Supervisors would also see a cut in their free labor sincetrusties often assist them with a variety of jobs. Local roadwaysmay suffer greatly if state inmates are moved to privatefacilities.

“If we don’t have them we will have to hire someone to docertain tasks and consider just dropping others,” said LawrenceCounty Sheriff Joel Thames, mentioning the possibility of bringingan end to highway cleanup programs.

“It’s very frustrating when you put together a program youbelieve the community appreciates and supports and have it pulledout from under you,” he said.

The cost of hiring more employees combined with the cost ofprivate facilities could leave the state unnecessarily payingseveral thousand dollars a year to private facilities.

According to Lincoln County Sheriff Lynn Boyte, privatefacilities charge $26 a day for each state inmate, compared to $20a day charged at county jails.

State inmates are criminals who were convicted in circuit courtand taken to Jackson by the Mississippi Department of Correctionsfor classification, then sent back out to county work programs.

“Ever since I can remember, it’s been that way around here,”said Ainsworth.

Inmates are categorized on levels A, B or C, with A beingnon-violent offenders who have a better chance for rehabilitationand C being most violent, said Boyte.

The aid legislators want to give privately run prisons inMarshall County and Leflore County, along with 10 regional jails,could put the Lincoln County Jail further away from their goal ofhousing state inmates.

“When we got our new jail certified, we were promised at least20 state inmates for an inmate work crew,” said Boyte.

Since the November promise, only one state inmate has come tothe multi-million dollar jail.

Copiah County Jail houses 20 state inmates, while the LawrenceCounty Jail has 10. The Jefferson-Franklin Correctional Facility isnot an approved state jail.

Sheriffs hope the proposed idea will die down before it evergets started in the state.

“We’ve all contacted our legislators and they’re making phonecalls, so we’ll just see what happens,” said Boyte.