Hygiene products and potato chips are some of the items inmates can buy in Mississippi prison commissaries. But the Department of Corrections Commissioner Marshall Fisher says providing the service is a major problem. He points to security concerns, especially among gangs.
"In other words, weaker inmates who don't have the support of the gangs, at times, have their commissary taken away from them and it's held over their head or sometimes there's gambling debts," said Fisher.
Fisher says those conflicts put corrections officers at risk. He says about 50 have been attacked this year. Fisher adds awarding contracts seems to be more about company profits, than making the prison system better.
"We have been literally bombarded with public records requests and then there's pressure put on the administration, or at least there's calls made to the administration to pressure us to go one way or the another, which does not happen and then we get sued," said Fisher.
There's one lawsuit pending right now according to Fisher. Attorney Constance Slaughter-Harvey served on the Governor's Prison Task Force this year. They made recommendations to improve the procurement process. She's pleased Fisher is reviewing the policy because it was on their list. It was bribes in exchange for commissary contracts that led to Former Commissioner Christopher Epps pleading guilty to corruption charges.
"There are many ways to operate the commissary. It could be run, operated by trustees. And I know people say well you can't trust the trustees. Well, you couldn't trust the commissioner. So you got to start somewhere," said Harvey.
Marshall Fisher says the department did operate the commissaries at one time. But he says they don't have the staff to do that now. Fisher says currently by statue, the service must be contracted-out.