Wednesday, June 3, 2015

NYT: Sheriffs say work center closures could cost $21 million.

Update: MDOC issued a response to JJ that is posted at the bottom of this post. 

The New York Times took a critical look at the decision to remove inmates from all county work centers by MDOC Commissioner Marshall Fisher.  Alan Blinder (not the Alan Blinder) reported:

But by the time the summer ends, such work details, which provide services for local governments, will be overhauled here in Mississippi, the latest state to scale back work for inmates.
Although the programs were once regarded as sources of cheap — or free — labor for local governments, as well as employment for trusted inmates, officials in some states have concluded that they are too expensive to maintain. The effect is that while state prison systems can save money — $3.2 million a year in the case of Mississippi, according to state officials — many local governments are straining to find ways to replace the labor.
In a budget-cutting move, the Mississippi Department of Corrections announced on April 30 that it would shut down a program that paid counties to take in state inmates who worked free for local governments in return for shortened sentences. The change, scheduled to begin Aug. 1, is expected to affect more than 600 inmates. Other states that have reduced similar programs include North Carolina, Michigan and Florida.

“We expect more hard decisions in the future, and we will continue to look for ways to effectively and efficiently manage this agency,” Marshall L. Fisher, the state’s new corrections commissioner, said in a letter to the president of the Mississippi Sheriffs’ Association. “The old way of doing business is no longer a viable option.”

But for the dozens of counties and municipalities that rely on prisoner labor collectively worth tens of millions of dollars each year, the so-called old way has been a fiscal lifeline for public needs and wants. Here in Pearl River County, where about 55,000 people live near the Louisiana border, state inmates launder jail uniforms, repair Sheriff’s Department vehicles and collect litter from roadsides. They also clean certain high school athletic facilities and government buildings, and assist with local events, like the Blueberry Jubilee. The state pays the county $20 a day per prisoner to house inmates in its jail.

The sheriff, David Allison, has estimated that it would cost $1.8 million a year to replace the inmates with traditional government workers who receive salaries and benefits.

“We don’t have it,” Sheriff Allison said. “There’s no way to come up with that much without raising taxes, and no one wants to raise taxes.”

Sheriff Allison, who said he was prohibited from using the county’s pretrial inmates for labor, said that if Mr. Fisher’s plan moved ahead, he would ask judges to consider compelling people who are sentenced to community service to work at the jail.

Counties elsewhere are considering options that include litigation and service reductions. The Mississippi Association of Supervisors, which represents elected officials in Mississippi’s 82 counties, estimated that 29 counties stood to lose more than $21 million collectively if the state’s plan moved ahead.

The association also said that the approach would jeopardize municipal budgets. One city in the Mississippi Delta, Cleveland, could face a $451,000 shortfall.....

 Mississippi’s plan calls for the inmates to be moved to existing state-owned community work centers, where local governments could still request the prisoners’ assistance. But officials like Sheriff Allison say the work centers tend to be far from the counties that have long relied on state inmates, making it impractical for many local governments to use the prisoners.... Rest of article.

MDOC issued the following statement this morning:


JACKSON – The Mississippi Department of Corrections is discussing alternatives with counties to keep free inmate labor when the Joint State County Work Programs begins phasing out on Aug. 1.

“MDOC is trying to find a way to work with these sheriffs and counties that will be affected by the closure of the JSCWP,” Corrections Commissioner Marshall Fisher said. “At this time, MDOC continues to move forward with its original closure plan. We have to get out of the mindset that we must continue doing business the old way.”

The first proposed alternative is for participating counties to keep state inmates without compensation from the state. Secondly, the counties can request mobile work crews at the state’s expense, based on current state law.

A 2003 state attorney general’s opinion states that when space is available at state correctional institutions, MDOC is not required to bear the costs associated with housing state inmates in county jails. MDOC now has plenty of space at the community work centers (CWCs) and the state prisons. Therefore, MDOC no longer will reimburse counties $20 per day per offender for housing and feeding inmates, Fisher said.

The plan is to move the fewer than 1,000 inmates participating in the 30 Joint State County Work Programs to the state’s 16 work centers. Counties with both a JSCWP and a CWC will be the first to see the program end.

“Laying off my people or closing one of the state’s prison as was suggested during the meeting with sheriffs is not a viable option,” Fisher said. “With the continued reduction of inmates in state prisons, we anticipate more significant changes in the future.”


Anonymous said...

Thanks KF for posting this. These inmates are doing something productive and not sitting on their butts in a crowded facility watching TV. Fisher has long been known for his "my way, or the highway" attitude. He thinks he is always right and doesn't listen. He could easily be labeled an A**hole. Cowboy Phil has to shoulder the blame for appointing this jerk.

Kingfish said...

Same Fisher who wouldn't fire an employee at his previous agency for doing a strip act and other things in front of other employees.

Anonymous said...

Also same Fisher who wouldn't help local law enforcement at his previous agency. He is not a friend to local government and that is a shame.

Anonymous said...

This is just payback for the Legislature cutting his budget, what do you expect?

Anonymous said...

Mississippi in 2015: still addicted to cheap slave labor.

Plateaued Out said...

Just another example of the 'Chancelor Jones-Khayat Syndrome'. Too many people (perhaps all of us at some point) reach that stage of age and arrogance where they see themselves as all-knowing and truly believe they 'have arrived', and act without regard to anything other than their own desires. It used to be the 'self fulfilling prophecy'. Now it's the 'self pleasing prophecy'.

Tired Taxpayer said...

Time for some adults to step forward. Bryant needs to defuse this immediately. Fisher is his out-of-control boy. He created him and owns him. It ain't smart to piss off the supervisors, sheriffs and a bunch of municipal officials. And add in the chancery and circuit clerks and other government officials who will have to empty their own wastebaskets, mop their floors and scrub their commodes. And as the sheriff in Pearl River County said in the NYT article ....the trash is going to pile up. Leake County Sheriff Waggoner was right when he said counties (and cities) can not afford to replace this labor. The citizens (taxpayers) are the losers. But, that doesn't bother Bryant or Fisher.

Anonymous said...

Say what you will about Fisher but a by-product of his action is to expose Mississippi counties as economic basket cases.

Anonymous said...

Inmates who can be trusted to step out from behind the bars for awhile need to be making some kind of positive contribution to the folks who are footing the bill for their stay. Fisher needs to go.

Anonymous said...

If the counties were capable of figuring the actual cost of using this "free" labor they might realize it's not such a great deal. Seriously doubt many are capable of this calculation. That said, the time and expense required to check the inmates in and out of the jail and transport them to/from work is not insignificant. While minimal, the employer is also required to provide meals (lunch) for inmates while on the job. Beyond that, don't overlook the fact that inmates who participate in the inmate labor program are a primary source for contraband brought into the prisons. Inmates constantly arrange for drugs, cell phones etc to be dropped in trash cans for collection on trash routes. Finally, we get what we are paying. While this hasn't always been the case, the quality of work and the productivity of today's inmates is subpar. If they tear up their mower, they don't have to mow. The city/county then gets to fix a mower and find a way to get the job done at a later date.

Perhaps this was a good program when our prisons were filled with a different type of offender. However today's inmates don't want to work, and the few who do are constantly bullied inside the prison not to do it or have some other incentive (detrimental to society) beyond getting some fresh air.

If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

Anonymous said...

Must be a bunch of Sheriffs posting comments. If the program is so valuable waive the $20/day fee and keep all you want. Otherwise get off the State's teat and handle your own business.

Anonymous said...

The rest of MS counties need to implement Rankin county's inmate labor program. The landscaping on main roads like Lakeland, Treetops, and HWY 80 is as well kept as can be. Meanwhile, on the JXN end of Lakeland Dr, we pay what appears to be CoJ crews to mow/trim only once the weeds get to hay baling height, then blow most of it into the road.

Other counties should strive to get off the state tit. Paid $20 a day to house inmates that are supposedly doing necessary work for the county....geez.

Deputy said...

10:23. You are totally ignorant about this program. (1) The time and expense checking these inmates is minimal. These are carefully selected individuals who know that if they screw up they will go back to the big house. (2) Contraband is not an issue with these people. They are on the cusp of getting out and aren't going to screw up. (3) Lunch? It is packed by the prison kitchen. No extra expense. (4) Quality of work is excellent. Picking up garbage and trash on the side of the road isn't rocket science. And in many areas they are skilled carpenters, mechanics and skilled tradesmen. What would you have them do? Sit on their asses and contribute nothing? Again, you are totally ignorant.

Anonymous said...

The issue of the inmates' "contributing" is a red herring. If they contribute, pay a fair salary to MDOC for their services. Quit trying to get something for nothing.

Anonymous said...

11:32 is the only comment that is accurate. Too many people thinking they know what goes on, when the reality is they don't have a clue.

Anonymous said...

Deputy @ 11:32 - I have inmate labor on my workforce to perform seasonal work. 1 out of every 5 we get willing and capable of performing the work. Checking them out is a pain. Typically takes a paid employee 2 hours each day to get 2 inmates checked out and back in. We have to feed them lunch. Our board had decided to move away from inmate labor after this summer (prior to Fisher announcment)

Regarding contraband - inmates on city/county trash routes absolutely dig through garbage as well as arrange contraband drops. May not be happening where you are but it happens.

Cities and counties need to live on what they take in.

pittpanther said...

We as a society should never do anything that "incentivizes" having prisoners. By having prisoners perform essential government duties, that puts us in the position of having to ensure a steady supply of prisoners available to do the work. This makes us more likely to do things to send people to prison, instead of trying to do things to keep people or of prison.

Also, having this source of cheap labor hides the true costs of these services, which allows these small town economic basket cases to keep operating poorly.

Anonymous said...

I am surprised that the NYT jumped on the side of the sheriffs here - and ignored the normal non-mississippi opinion that our trustee system is nothing more than an extension of the slave labor south. Free labor from those that are indentured. Guess some sheriff - or maybe Deputy above - got to the NYT with their crying towels about how bad the MDOC is and the terrible impact on local budgets.

Fisher is doing a good job with a thankless position. He is a no-nonsense guy which I'm sure is why some of the local sheriffs and deputies have come on here to bitch about his actions. But he was named to run MDOC - and to do so to the benefit of the state. Impacts on individual county's trash cans is not in the list of agency goals of MDOC

Anonymous said...

I directly supervise Community Work Center inmates. If I read correctly Fisher is wanting to relocate those inmates eligible for working outside of the bars to the Community Work Centers, the draw back being that the location of those centers is a long distance from some of the work sites. Did I read that correctly? I guess my agency is lucky enough to have a CWC facility so close. Saying that inmate labor is slavery is an incorrect and inflammatory statement. They are repaid in days reduced on their sentencing, and that is a wage they are glad to earn. None are forced to go beyond bars everyday to work. Not only that but they are put into an environment that helps them socialize outside of an incarcerated setting. Though they are isolated from the general public, they interact with the hall-walkers which helps them rejoin a working society when they are released. I value our CWC worker, treat & feed him well, hopefully he will follow those inmates we have had before him and rejoin society willing to work and be a benefit to society.

4:39 here said...

No, I didn't say that inmate work programs were the same as slave labor. I said that many non-southerners has made that comparison of these programs and our "trustee" system. I said that I was surprised that the NYT did not jump on that bandwagon.

The use of inmates as trustees in the Governor's Mansion, the State Office Buildings, The Capitol and other public facilities is viewed in this light elsewhere. I agree that many of the inmates look forward to it - for various different reasons, including most every one (good and bad) that has been mentioned on the various posts above.

The main issue here is that Fisher is not closing down this program - he is just putting the program that he is responsible for under his control and budget. I do not fault him for that. Realize that independently elected sheriffs and County Supervisors might not like the result, but these inmates are the responsibility of MDOC. Many sheriffs have shown the inability to manage them properly.

And no - I don't work for MDOC, have no connection to MDOC, and hope never to have a connection. But I do respect good government and good management. Fisher has taken the bit at this out of control agency and is trying to bring it back into reality.

Jane said...

You know what would be news? A government funded program that ISN'T rife with fraud and abuse.

Anonymous said...

Yes Jane. And it should be supported when the manager of a government program tries to eliminate the waste, fraud and abuse. But once they do, others that are living off this tit jump up and down screaming. Here Fisher is trying to correct problems, but some (not all) of the sheriffs or the local governments, or whoever is living off the programs go screaming about how bad the clean up will effect them.

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