Sheriff weighing loss of MDOC joint state-county program

From staff reports

Many County leaders said the Mississippi Department of Corrections’ plan to save taxpayer money will actually end up making residents reach deeper into their pockets.

Winston County is one of 30 counties affected by a MDOC decision to end the Joint State County Worker Program. County officials said the change doesn’t make good financial sense. The Winston Choctaw County Regional facility at present only houses 8 inmates for the work program but can house up to 12.

Winston County spent $102,746.09 to construct a building specifically to house inmates for Joint State County Worker Program. Now that MDOC is looking to pull the plug on the program, the sheriff said not only will the building sit empty, but may affect some of his employees hours and pay.

“It would directly impact Winston County Regional’s budget approximately $298,000 a year,” said Sheriff Jason Pugh. “We would go from financial stable and self sufficient to need local tax dollars to pay for the facility.”

MDOC’s Commissioner Marshall Fisher said in a news release that the more effective use of taxpayer dollars is eliminating JSCWP and spreading those inmates among 17 community work centers. However, Sheriff Pugh said his county owned jail is more cost effective than the community work centers, which are state run facilities.
“We house them for $20 a day,” said Sheriff Pugh. “The state, the CWC, which is the same identical inmate, according to MDOC website is $43.43 cents a day. So we do it for half of what they do.”

Winston County leaders say they are facing about a $240,000 loss in free labor from inmates who do everything from cutting grass to cleaning roads and cemeteries to maintaining county vehicles.

“We’re going to have to hire additional people to fill these positions. We’re not asking for anything new. We’re talking about just to maintain the status quo of what we have now,” said Sheriff Pugh. “So you’re talking 5 to 8 additional workers that will have to be hired. The only means that local counties, city and town would have an increase in ad valorem taxes.”

County officials say taxes would also have to be raised since the county built the County Regional Jail using bond money and there will be less money coming in to pay the note.

Sheriff Pugh compared MDOC’s actions to an unfunded mandate. He said the 30 counties, now running the program, will see about $24 million in loses if it goes away.

“It is disheartening to see harm come to such a positive program,” said Pugh.

MDOC has proposed that the county may keep the inmates for working but if they do the state will not pay any per diem on those inmates.

“I do not think we can afford to lose the program,” said Sheriff Pugh.

Right now the Joint State County Inmate Program is slated to end in early August. The WCRCF presently operates above its expenses but will see those expense rises in either solution from the MDOC.