Protestors interrupted a legislative budget hearing to protest recent deaths at Mississippi prisons. As MPB's Desare Frazier reports, once they were escorted out it was back to budget business.
A small group of protestors interrupted Mississippi's Corrections Commissioner Pelicia Hall, as she addressed the legislative budget committee, shouting they want justice.
The group contends more transparency is needed about the deaths of 16 inmates last month in state prisons. Hall told lawmakers two cases are under investigation as homicides, they are awaiting a toxicology report on another and the rest died from natural cases.
"There's nothing sinister here. There's nothing to hide. Based on the information available to us they're based on natural causes and that's the bottom line," said Hall.
For the department's budget, Hall is asking for $3.7 million to increase salaries. She says they have the lowest rate of staff ever and it's a public safety issue. Hall also wants more than $22 million to renovate a dilapidated building housing 1,400 inmates at Mississippi's Parchman Penitentiary. Public safety commissioner Marshall Fisher is requesting an increase for crime lab salaries, to upgrade equipment and hire more Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics agents. His total request for next year?
"Forty-eight million, seventy-five thousand, sixty-two dollars. I believe the legislature is going to do what they have continued to do with the department of public safety. They're going to give us everything that they possibly can,"
The State Division of Medicaid didn't ask for money to close a budget gap, something Republican Speaker Philip Gunn noticed.
"That's probably the highlight of the day. That's good news. In the past, every year they've had enormous deficits," said Gunn.
Legislative Budget Office staff will devise a proposed budget then lawmakers will meet in November to review the recommendations.