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The recent decision of the Mississippi Department of Corrections to cut the inmate labor program has been met with part criticism and part appreciation. There are those who believe that the move will not only save almost $3 million in correctional spending, but also the employment opportunities that are now available to low risk prisoners can be channeled to regular citizens in need of jobs.
On its part, the DOC says that the move has been motivated by the need to cut correctional spending and that inmates who were employed under the program will now be moved to state owned community work centers. Although prisoners have little to lose if the plans are put into effect, many say that being with such program not only helps in reintegration with the society but has also saved their lives as these convicts are moved to the relatively safer county jails from state penitentiaries.
Another angle to the story is that many counties have come to rely on this form of labor. The state pays the county $20/day for housing the prisoners. The inmates work for this facility, filling petty jobs that help in maintaining the resources of the community. If the inmate labor program is scrapped, the county will have to incur the cost of the functions that were hitherto handled through the use of inmate labor.
As the Sheriff of Pearl River County, David Allison stated, this would mean an additional expense of almost $1.8 million and this is the kind of the budget that the local municipality just does not have. This would mean the move would have a serious impact on the local tax structure. After all, the money to pay for these jobs will have to come from somewhere.
The authorities of many other counties echo the views of Allison. In fact, in the last few days as many as 14 counties announced that they would continue to keep local inmates in the work rehab programs they currently have, even without funding from the state. The MDOC will only incur the cost of medical care for inmate labor under the new scheme.