Sheriff’s Association protests MDOC inmate program cut

Published 10:48 am Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Mississippi Sheriff’s Association is hoping for the best after meeting with Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Marshall Fisher about his decision to close county work programs.

Fisher met with four Sheriff’s Association representatives Monday to hear concerns about his decision to shut down Joint State County Work Programs. The meeting was arranged by Sheriff’s Association President Harold Jones of Copiah County in efforts to dissuade the commissioner from eliminating the program.

Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing was part of the small group that met with the commissioner.

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“We presented our thoughts and ideas about the benefits in each county and how each community benefits from the program,” Rushing said. “He graciously listened and said he’d take it all under advisement.”

In letters sent to sheriffs April 30, Fisher wrote he could save $3.2 million by moving inmates assigned to county jails 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, Rushing said.

These inmates perform 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 other tasks.

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

“He hasn’t been [in that position] very long, so he hasn’t really had a chance to know the benefits of all the programs,” Rushing said.

Sheriff Greg Waggoner of Leake County was also at the meeting. Leake County’s program is approved for 72 inmates who can provide labor to the community, including garbage collection. Rushing said Fisher plans to visit the program in Leake County.

The Sheriffs’ Association doesn’t agree with Fisher’s math on the cost savings. Counties receive $20.25 per day to hold inmates. Per documents published on the MDOC website in 2014, it costs $43.43 per day to hold inmates at the 17 state community work centers.

Corrections spokeswoman Grace Simmons Fisher, however, told the AP 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.

“We showed him where we were more or less the best cost and lower than [the lowest figure they came up with],” Rushing said. “[The meeting] came across very positive, but at the same time we’re still waiting to hear his decision.”

Fisher said he would attend the Sheriff’s Association Annual Conference the first week in June and address the sheriffs at that time.

“Hopefully we are able to persuade and make him see the benefit, and that the cost does actually save the state money,” Rushing said.