County Trusties

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 2, 2010

County will keep trusties if state shuts off funding

By Billy Davis

Panola County will continue to house state inmate trusties even if the Miss. Department of Corrections pulls its funding, county supervisors agreed Monday.

The county board was reacting to news that MDOC, due to budget cuts, plans to stop reimbursing counties for the Joint County-State Work Program. The funding will end March 15, Commissioner Chris Epps has announced.

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The state program allows inmates to shave a day from their sentence for each day they work for county government.

In addition to free labor, counties are paid $20 per day per inmate – which is more than $204,000 annually for Panola County government.

Epps, in a February letter to county sheriffs, stated that he hopes counties would continue to house the inmates even if MDOC ceased its reimbursement. But the letter included a contact number for sheriffs who want the Department of Corrections “to take the inmates back.”  

The Panola County jail currently houses 28 work program trusties, who are minimum-security inmates. They are often seen on the county garbage trucks, and work crews are also often seen picking up roadside trash. Still other trusties use trade skills, such as painting and carpentry, to work on county buildings, automobiles and equipment.  

Sheriff Otis Griffin broached the subject Monday, reminding supervisors of the coming March 15 date.

“The decision is for the state to come and get them or for us to hang on to them,” he said.

“I’d like to try to hang on to them,” replied board president Gary Thompson.

Griffin came prepared to show supervisors the equivalent cost of paying 28 county employees a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Including health insurance and other costs, the 28 employees would cost $688,249 annually, according to the sheriff’s figures.

Supervisors also saw salary figures at $8, $9, and $10 per hour.

Thompson further explained that he is hopeful the state legislature will plug the budget gap at MDOC. But he added that Panola County “should have a plan” before the deadline comes.   

The county board voted 5-0 to keep the trusties.

Unmentioned in the Monday meeting was what Panola County will do if Epps does stop funding the state program, since county government is using the MDOC reimbursement to pay for a jail addition.

The Panolian reported last week that a payment of $269,678 is due August 1, which follows an interest-only payment of $99,687 that was made February 1, according to County Administrator Kelley Magee.