Cutting inmate programs does not restore faith in MDOC

Published 10:00 am Thursday, May 7, 2015

New Department of Corrections Commissioner Marshall Fisher has a tough job ahead of him. Restoring trust in the department after the Chris Epps disaster will take time.

But Fisher seems to have stumbled right out of the gate with the announcement that he’s ending the state’s work program that places inmates in county jails.

In letters sent to sheriffs last week, 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. Shutting down the program would take away up to 12 inmates from Lincoln County.

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These inmates provide free labor for county and city governments, picking up roadside litter, cleaning county buildings, cutting grass, filling potholes and helping supervisors or other county officials with other tasks.

Fisher’s decision seems logical at first glance — the state would save money — but the math doesn’t add up.

Counties receive $20.25 per day from the state to house an inmate. Per documents published on the MDOC website in 2014, it costs $43.43 per day to house an inmate at the 17 state community work centers where Fisher plans to move the inmates.

A Corrections spokeswoman, 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.

While it seems MDOC is having trouble deciding what exactly it costs to house inmates, the last time we checked $20.25 is still less than $22.04, meaning the state spends more to keep inmates than send them to county jails. So how does moving the inmates back to state facilities save the state money?

“It is simply not an efficient use of taxpayers’ money, with public safety being of utmost concern,” Fisher said of the work program he plans to end.

Based on the numbers provided by MDOC, moving inmates back to state facilities doesn’t seem to be an efficient use of taxpayers’ money. And as for safety concerns, is Fisher suggesting county jails can’t supervise inmates as well as a state facility can?

“We’re hoping to sit him down and show him the benefits and come to a resolution,” Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing said. “At least we’d like to get our side into it. Hopefully we can work it out and keep the programs going. I think they’re beneficial for us all.”

Fisher needs to rethink the decision to end the program, or at least get his numbers in line before trying to convince sheriffs and the public that it’s a sound financial decision.