BY: Steve Wilson |

Imagine a scenario in which your house burns down, you barely escape and, after firefighters douse the blaze, you decide to get a smoke detector.

Mississippi has taken a similar stance in tackling corruption. The Legislature addresses the need to fight it only after a scandal spurs lawmakers into action.

A scandal at the Mississippi Department of Corrections cast a long shadow over this year’s session. Its former director, Chris Epps, was named, along with former state legislator, judge and Rankin County school board member Cecil McCrory in a multi-count federal indictment alleging Epps received kickbacks and bribes for steering corrections contracts to companies owned or affiliated with McCrory.

Lawmakers have passed some good bills regarding corruption. House Bill 1100 would mandate competitive bidding for expenditures totaling more than $5,000. HB 825 and Senate Bill 2553 would change the makeup of the state’s Personal Service Contract Review Board and change how those contracts are awarded. HB 400 would reform the process of awarding of prison commissary contracts that were the subject of Epps and McCrory’s alleged corruption. HB 1137 would place restrictions on the awards of “emergency” contracts and restrict them to real emergencies.

They’re good ideas. But why weren’t they considered before Epps was indicted? Epps didn’t hide. The former corrections officer and the longest-serving corrections commissioner in state history drove an S-class Mercedes Benz, the top of the carmaker’s line that retails at more than $137,000, which is just about his annual salary. He wore a Rolex, incredibly, to his own indictment. He had condominiums in Biloxi and later in Pass Christian.

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