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Miss. Among States Struggling to Staff Prisons

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Miss. Among States Struggling to Staff Prisons
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Mississippi State Penitentiary
Associated Press

Mississippi is among a growing number of states that are struggling to staff its prisons systems.

Mississippi Department of Corrections has a 31 percent turnover rate according to Commissioner Pelicia Hall. There are more than 500 vacancies at state prison facilities which house nearly 19,000 inmates. Hall says paying correction officers $24,900 makes is difficult to attract and keep correction officers.
She raised the need for salary increases with the House Appropriations Committee. Hall says low officer salaries are a nationwide problem. She wants to avoid what happened in West Virginia last month.

"West Virginia is a part of the southern state region for corrections and they had to declare a state of emergency because they couldn't adequately staff some of their facilities and they called in the National Guard," said Hall.

Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee are among the state's reportedly struggling to keep staff. Mississippi's 2014 criminal justice reform law provides alternative sentencing programs for non-violent offenders. State prisons focus on housing those who are violent which makes them harder to staff. Hall says she's had to close some housing units in a facility because of the staff shortage. House Democrat Angela Cockerham of Magnolia says its important legislators hear Hall's concern.

"With Commissioner Hall telling us what the agency's needs are we'll have to balance those in consideration with whatever monies that the state has available," said Cockerham.

House Republican Jerry Turner of Baldwin isn't sure there's money for raises. He hopes Hall can come up with a plan.

"With her innovative ideas that she's uses she's able to move some money around you know, that she'll be able to use in different places as well," said Turner.

The current correction officer salary was raised to $24,900 in 2016.