A joint inmate work program between the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) and Lauderdale County Detention Facility is scheduled to end this summer.
MDOC Commissioner Marshall Fisher informed Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie that the joint program will end Aug. 1. According to MDOC officials, the move – which includes eliminating the state's 30 work programs – is part of a cost-cutting measure that could save the department $3 million.
Sollie said the Lauderdale County Detention Center will be hard-pressed to replace labor currently performed by MDOC inmates.
"As of today, we have 21 state inmates. On Aug. 1, the Mississippi Department of Corrections will terminate the joint city/county work center and redistribute these inmates to one of 17 MDOC community work centers across the state," Sollie said. "These inmates provide labor for the MDOT truck crews, they provide labor for our kitchen at the detention center and they assist the Highway Troop H in Meridian."
Sollie said the nearest MDOC community work center for Meridian is 60 miles, in Macon. MDOC pays Lauderdale County $20 a day for the inmates who, in turn, provide labor to the county. The loss of the inmates labor will have a significant effect on the county's budget.
"It's something we definitely are going to have to handle," said Lauderdale County Supervisors Board President Kyle Rutledge. "Today, we approved to write a letter to send to our state senators and representatives from our area, the lieutenant governor (Tate Reeves) and governor (Phil Bryant), to see if they can get the MDOC to reconsider. As of now, this will have a big impact on Lauderdale County."
Sollie told the supervisors the biggest impact would be in food services. Currently, five to eight MDOC inmates prepare up to 600 meals per day for the detention center's inmates.
"We would have to redo our entire process on how to prepare and distribute the food to our inmates," Sollie said. "We would also have to moth ball the city/county work center."
The work center is located on Highway 39 near Northeast Park.
Sollie said his department has had difficulty getting local inmates jailed on misdemeanor offenses to pick up the work. Many of the center's felony offenders are awaiting trial.
"They don't want to do it," Sollie told the supervisors. "So, we don't have much hope there."
Rutledge said the MDOC inmates, on the other hand, are motivated because they can use the work to trim jail time from their felony sentences.
"They are hard workers. They show up and do a good job," Rutledge said.
The supervisors will have to pick up the tab to supply workers to feed the inmates and other work MDOC inmates currently do.
"All the counties in this state need that inmate labor," Rutledge said. "What I'm concerned with is that our fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, and this will hit us in the last two months in our budget process."
Rutledge and the supervisors do not know how much it will cost to pay outside laborers to assume the duties of the MDOC inmates, but estimate the cost would be in the thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars.
"The state will save some money, but unfortunately we're the one losing," Sollie said.