More than 20 Mississippi counties will continue to use state inmates through a Department of Corrections work program, but without reimbursement from the state.
The Department of Corrections said earlier this year it was ending the Joint State County Work Program, under which it was paying $20 per day per inmate to 30 counties.
As of Friday afternoon, Corrections Commissioner Marshall Fisher says he’s signed memorandums of understanding with 23 counties who will keep the inmates but without reimbursement.
"The counties will, however, benefit significantly from this, because they will still be able to utilize the inmates to do the work," he says.
Fisher says ending the program is strictly a budget issue, saving his department $3.2 million.
But counties that relied on the labor and reimbursement have argued it’s a financial hit for them. For example, Pearl River County Sheriff David Allison estimated replacing the labor in the program would cost $1.9 million a year. The county also took in nearly half a million dollars in reimbursement.
Pearl River has decided to remain in the program, keeping 41 inmates who work as mechanics, on road and lawn crews, in the jail kitchen, and other jobs.
"When the county board of supervisors looked at it, they realized it would cost a lot more to hire 40 people to do these jobs than it would lose the $20 per day per inmate," Allison says. "So it was a basic business decision, and it was the right decision. I agree with them."
The counties will have to pay for housing and food for the inmates, and also provide alcohol and drug treatment and GED programs. The state will continue to pay for medical care.