In short, the state’s rising prison population put state government in the mode of reducing the number of inmates housed in the custody of MDOC. From the perspective of an agency struggling with budget issues after the revelation of the stunning public corruption conducted by former MDOC commissioner Chris Epps, Mississippi joined other states in commencing a downsizing driven primarily by budgetary concerns.
Prisoners housed in the Joint State County Work in eligible counties perform labor for cities and counties. Essentially, counties were paid $20 per day per inmate to house convicts who provided free or cheap labor in exchange for reduced prison sentences – just as they had been paid $20 a day to house state prisoner back when state prisons were severely overcrowded.
Local governments got cheap labor with no costs for benefits that would be due actual employees. Inmates generally favored working out county jails rather than the state’s prisons. The program amounted to a state subsidy for local governments. Some local governments liked the program so well that they began expanding housing for prisoners to enjoy the benefit of the cheap labor that came with $20 per inmate state subsidy.
When current MDOC Commissioner Marshall Fisher announced his intention to shut down the program, the state’s Municipal League and the Mississippi Supervisors’ Association took up the fight – complaining that local governments don’t have the ability to absorb the loss of the inmate labor and replace it with regular county or city employees. Those groups claim they will lose as much as $23 million if the program shuts down.
But Fisher says MDOC will save $3.2 million by making the move and that fiscal circumstances in the agency requires hard choices. That when MDOC received less funding than they were seeking from state legislators.