MDOC continues inmate removal activities

Published 5:00 am Monday, August 7, 2006

Nineteen more state inmates were removed from the Lincoln CountyJail Friday by the Mississippi Department of Corrections as theresult of an ongoing investigation by the agency into jailactivities.

An MDOC bus arrived at the jail shortly after 8 a.m. Friday topick up a majority of the state inmates remaining at the countylockup.

Lincoln County Sheriff Wiley Calcote said the jail still houses14 state inmates. MDOC Commissioner Chris Epps has stated thoseinmates would also be removed as quickly as possible.

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The pickup is the second by the corrections agency, whichremoved 20 inmates on July 19.

Although Calcote has taken corrective actions following aninternal investigation of jail activities, Epps was noncommittalabout the future return of state inmates to the facility.

“Not at this time because there are still allegations we arepursuing,” Epps said. “It would be premature of me as aninvestigator to say that now everything is on the up and up and wecan go back to doing business again.”

An order allowing the Lincoln County Jail to house state inmatesis due to expire Aug. 12. State and federal prison officials havesaid they will not renew the order because of discrepanciesdiscovered during the investigation of the jail.

“It will not be renewed,” Epps said last week.

Ron Welch, a federal prison official and inmate advocate, who isoften at odds with MDOC, also has the authority to disqualify ajail from housing state inmates. He said last week he would notrenew the jail either.

However, Epps said that should the sheriff’s internalinvestigation result in the identification and correction of allimproper practices at the jail – and MDOC’s investigation reveal noother discrepancies – it would be possible for the jail to housestate inmates in the future.

“In that case, I would allow us to re-approve the jail, yes,” hesaid.

The forcible removal of state inmates from the Lincoln CountyJail could result in a funding shortfall of approximately 20percent of its budget, according to County Administrator DavidFields.

Fields said MDOC reimbursed the county more than $121,600 forhousing state inmates in 2005. The total jail budget for the fiscalyear was just over $585,000.

Fields said, based on his figures, should supervisors decide tocover the loss with an increase in property taxes, it would take araise of approximately two-thirds of a mill. A county mill isapproximately $189,000.

Those figures are far below those estimated by the MDOCcommissioner, who said the jail could benefit by more than $300,000in reimbursements based on the maximum number of state inmatesallowed at the facility staying for a full year.

Calcote said both figures were incorrect, but did not providebudgetary information to reinforce his position.

Officials also cannot agree on an estimate of the inmate workcrew’s economic impact on the county. Work crews commonly work withcity and county officials removing debris and litter from along theroad, cleaning public buildings, growing vegetables in the jailgarden and cooking meals for the jail’s occupants.

Calcote said a more than $400,000 economic impact cited by someofficials is high.

In a report to the county board of supervisors a few months ago,Calcote said, he had estimated the economic impact as significant,but at a figure much less than $400,000. He remembered the amountto be around $300,000.

Some of those operations will not be affected by the loss ofstate inmates, he said.

For instance, Calcote said the jail garden and kitchen, which heinstituted in 2005, would continue. He did not elaborate on howthat would be accomplished.

The garden and kitchen program has proven highly successful indecreasing the costs of feeding inmates at the facility, accordingto several county officials.