Panola will lose services of inmates 5/5/2015

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Panola will lose services of inmates

By Rupert Howell
Panola County stands to lose approximately $240,000 in annual revenue following the Mississippi Department of Corrections announcement of its plan to end the Joint State County Work Programs beginning Aug. 1.

But the even bigger loss may be with the services that those inmates provide to Panola while serving their incarceration here.

Jail Administrator Bobby Meek explained that approximately 20 state inmates are performing local  duties for the county and other government agencies that will require additional employees if those inmates are removed.

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Inmates will be moved from the programs in 30 counties, including Panola, to the agency’s 17 community work centers, where they will still perform work for counties, according to a press release from MDOC—but none of those centers are near Panola.

New department head Marshall L. Fisher said the change will allow the department to redirect $3.2 million to other budgetary needs.

MDOC community work centers are not currently at full capacity with inmates and “As a result, there is unused capacity at each of the CWCs that needs to be utilized to obtain maximum efficiency,” Fisher wrote.

CWCs are incarceration alternatives where eligible inmates  complete their sentences. Inmates perform work for cities, counties, state agencies and charitable organizations at those centers.
MDOC inmates housed in the Panola jail have been used to offset labor at Panola County’s Solid Waste Transfer Station, the District Highway Patrol Station, jail maintenance, courthouse maintenance, airport maintenance and other public buildings and grounds throughout the county. Another inmate assists with the erection and replacement of road signs throughout the county.

Also a crew (two crews if numbers allow) of state inmates regularly pick up roadside litter in a county that always has plenty to pick up according to Meek.

Meek suggested looking at the numbers. Replacing 20 inmates working 40 hours a week with civilian workers making minimum wage would cost approximately $300,000 annually. Add that to the lost revenue for the county and over half a million is there to make up in revenue.

And some of those inmates provide skilled labor with Meek stating that unless it is some type of specialized maintenance, inmates and jail staff keep the jail and most of its appliances and automobiles in operation.