• 73°

Mississippi prison system: Short staffing may be affecting public safety

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi Department of Corrections says it’s continuing to investigate how a convicted murderer escaped from a prison July 5 and remained at large for two days.

A department statement issued Wednesday said that while the escape has not been directly connected to how many prison employees were working, understaffing “could be a contributing factor that ultimately affects public safety.”

Department officials have previously told legislators that prison staff shortages and low salaries are concerns.

“The department is committed to finding ways to address the understaffing problem, but until the wages, the necessary security positions are restored and working conditions of the correctional officers improve, the state correctional system will continue to be at a disadvantage in carrying out its public safety mission,” the department’s statement said.

Republican state Sen. Dennis DeBar of Leakesville has asked the attorney general to investigate Michael F. Wilson’s escape from South Mississippi Correctional Institution. DeBar said he thinks the corrections department “may not conduct a fair and impartial review” and may not release findings to the public.

Wilson, also known as “Pretty Boy Floyd,” was captured July 7 in Ocean Springs, about 70 miles south of the prison. Electronic billboards around the state had flashed Floyd’s picture and warned he could be dangerous.

The corrections department statement said prison employees followed protocol, including notification of city, county and state law enforcement agencies, after the escape.

“The protocol is consistent with correctional standards nationwide,” said the statement, which did not specify how quickly the notification of law enforcement happened.

The department issued a news release at about 3 p.m. July 5 saying Floyd was discovered missing just over two hours earlier.

Russell Turner, publisher of the weekly Greene County Herald newspaper, told The Associated Press last week that he gave Floyd a ride to a hospital after finding the “winded and flustered” stranger sitting outside his home about 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometers) from the prison. Turner said the public had not yet been notified about the escape, and he did not know Floyd was an inmate.

The corrections department statement said Wednesday that prison officials and employees “would never disregard and/or dismiss its responsibility for public safety.”

The statement did not say how long an investigation will take.

“If the department finds, upon completion of that investigation, that any disciplinary action is warranted or any operational changes are needed, then it will act accordingly,” the statement said.

Wilson, 47, is now in the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, in the northern part of the state. He was sentenced to two life sentences in September 2015 after being convicted of murder for killing two people on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 2014.