Sheriffs look to state for inmate funds

Published 8:12 pm Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner ChristopherEpps leveled with sheriffs from across the state on budget issuesconcerning inmates in the state’s work program, and it looks likepocketbooks could get even tighter if the Legislature does not stepin.

Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing said Epps told county sheriffsthat funds will not be available to pay the $20 a day per stateinmate reimbursement from March 15 through June 30 unlesslegislators decide to find a way to restore funding to theprogram.

Rushing said based on his numbers, Lincoln County stands to lose$21,400 in reimbursement if the funding is cut.

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That’s if the county keeps the inmates and works them in theircurrent jobs, he said. And if the 10 state inmates in question aresent back and if others were hired to do the various jobs currentlydone by inmates, the county could have to shell out $43,500 for 10workers at minimum wage.

Epps did tell the sheriffs that he had the state work program inthe budget for next year.

Rushing said the decision of whether to keep the inmates and workthem or to return them in those three months is up to countysupervisors.

“I’ll go to the board Monday,” he said. “And all this will bedifferent if (the legislators) fund (Epps and the program). As itstands right now, if they don’t get funding, as of March 15,they’ll pay medical but not reimbursement.”

Rushing said he has spoken with local legislators on the issue, andthat they are pondering their options.

“I have been in discussion with a couple of them, and they saidthey were going to take a look at the subject,” he said. “It boilsdown to funding. We’re all hopeful it’s going to work out, but ifit doesn’t, I’ll go Monday and explain to the supervisors and seeif they want to scale back or ride out the three months.”

Rushing said as much of an impact as the situation has on LincolnCounty, there are others – like Hinds – that will have a lot oftrouble for those three months.

“Several of them are going to be in a bind,” he said. “Some of themhave regional work centers; one is in the process of building one.Hinds County said if they had to send theirs back and hire people,it could cost them about $600,000.”

While some other counties use their work crew members for garbagepickup and other functions, Lincoln County’s work in some of thedistricts, or on keeping the roads clean, or at the Lincoln Center,or in outbuildings around the government complex.

And still there’s a chance that state lawmakers can come to therescue, Rushing said. Epps told the sheriffs that there is still aglimmer of hope that county jails and other facilities won’t findthemselves scrimping and saving to make ends meet because vitalfunding has been pulled.

“If they wind up funding him then he’s going to pay us,” Rushingsaid. “I think that was the gist of the meeting. He’s wanting us onboard to help him out with convincing the legislators to fundus.”

That is his hope, Rushing said. He said he’s keeping his fingerscrossed that March 15 will come and the program will still befunded.

“All this may be moot by then. Who knows?” he said.