MDOC pulls inmate program

Published 10:08 am Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A statewide shutdown of the inmate work program could take away up to 12 laborers from Lincoln County.

In letters sent to sheriffs Thursday, Corrections Commissioner Marshall Fisher wrote he could save $3.2 million by moving inmates assigned from Joint State County Work Programs to the Mississippi Department of Correction’s own community work centers.

Lincoln County is approved for 12 inmates based on the number of beds available, and has nine in-house working now, Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing said.

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These inmates provide free labor for the county and city governments, picking up roadside litter, cleaning county buildings, cutting grass, filling potholes and helping supervisors or other county officials with many other small tasks. On Tuesday, inmates were out at the Lincoln County Civic Center helping clean up the area for the Spring Fest and Fair.

“We’re hoping to sit him down and show him the benefits and come to a resolution,” Rushing said. “At least we’d like to get our side into it.”

MDOC plans to end the program that sends inmates to 30 county jails starting Aug. 1. In Lincoln County, the JSCWP has been in effect for about 10 years.

Fisher said in his letter even without budgetary pressure, MDOC would still propose eliminating the work program.

“It is simply not an efficient use of taxpayers’ money, with public safety being of utmost concern,” he said.

The Sheriffs’ Association is not convinced of the math, however. Counties receive $20.25 per day to hold inmates. Per documents published on MDOC website in 2014, it costs $43.43 per day to hold inmates at the 17 state community work centers.

Rushing said it seems to the association that the move would cost the state money, and some suggest it would be better to move more inmates from the work centers to county jails.

Corrections spokeswoman Grace Simmons Fisher, however, told The Associated Press the current cost is $33.48 per day, and it would drop to $22.04 a day after fixed costs of utilities and staff are spread over more inmates.

Rushing said the cost of lost labor for the counties is a big hit. He said as he understands it, the counties would still have access to the inmates, but sheriffs worry many counties aren’t close enough to a community work center. For Lincoln County, the closest center is in Magnolia.

“Hopefully we can work it out and keep the programs going,” Rushing said. “I think they’re beneficial for us all.”

The Mississippi Sheriff’s Association will meet with Fisher on Monday to discuss concerns surrounding the planned abolishment of the county work program.