County no longer reimbursed for state inmate labor

Published 7:00 am Saturday, August 8, 2015

3. TUNING CARS: Inmates work on maintaining and fixing county vehicles at the county jail’s body shop. Photo by Ashley Collins.

TUNING CARS: Inmates work on maintaining and fixing county vehicles at the county jail’s body shop. Photo by Ashley Collins.

Pearl River County recently signed an agreement with the Mississippi Department of Corrections to continue housing and using inmates in the work program without reimbursement from the state. While the new stipulation may cost the county more money, Sheriff David Allison said it’ll have a minimal impact and will end up saving taxpayer dollars.

Pearl River County is one of 26 counties across Mississippi that agreed to MDOC’s new Joint State County Work Program, which went into effect on Aug. 1, according to a press release from the MDOC.

Under the new agreement, the county will no longer receive $20 a day per state inmate. Each county must also provide GED programs to all inmates, including alcohol and drug programs, food and housing. MDOC will continue paying for their medical care, according to the press release.

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There are currently 41 state inmates within the Pearl River County Jail system, Allison said.

“The reason we made this decision was to save money. If we didn’t agree, we would have to hire 41 people to replace the inmates and their labor would cost around $1 million a year,” Allison said.

At first, the county was hesitant about MDOC’s decision to discontinue the state inmate work programs.

“We did protest and we presented our case as to why we needed to get paid,” Allison said.

MDOC decided the money used towards the state inmate work program would be better spent elsewhere, according to previous Item coverage.

Allison said the inmates in Pearl River County help maintain the county’s landscape and infrastructure while saving taxpayers money.

They work on litter crews, the maintenance of county and city buildings and the Pearl River County Jail, where they wash and repair county vehicles, maintain the county jail and prepare meals, said Capt. Butch Raby, chief of security at the jail.

“We saved taxpayers $1.5 million last year alone in inmate labor,” Raby said.

For each day an inmate works “that means a day off in their sentence,” Allison said.

The counties of Alcorn, Holmes, Issaquena and Hinds, which originally participated in the work program, decided not to sign the agreement. MDOC is currently moving inmates in those counties to community work centers, according to the press release.