Solutions sought to keep center open
by Rory Doyle
May 03, 2013 | 1503 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Many county leaders remain concerned with the Mississippi Department of Correction's late April announcement that it will close four of its 17 community work centers across the state, effective July 15, 2013.

The move would hit hard locally, as one of the proposed centers to be shut down is the Bolivar County Community Work Center in Rosedale.

The establishment typically houses between 75-100 inmates, booked on lighter offenses, who work at county facilities by cutting grass, picking up trash, performing janitorial work and assisting at local schools.

"The labor they provide probably saves the county about $2.5 million in wages," said Bolivar County Board of Supervisors President Andrew Williams, in a previous Bolivar Commercial story.

Local and state officials met at the Rosedale Courthouse Tuesday to voice their concerns and draft letters to MDOC Commissioner Christopher Epps, the man behind the advised closings.

"This would be a devastating financial loss to the county," said Rosedale Mayor Carey Estes. "A lot of the work the inmates do would no longer be able to be performed.

"We're writing to Commissioner Epps to explain how this would create financial hardships and we're requesting a meeting with the commissioner."

Epps said in his April announcement, "Tough times make you make tough decisions. A budget shortfall and fewer non-violent inmates eligible to be housed at community work centers are the reasons for the decision.

"Closing these four facilities will save taxpayers about $2.3 million."

Williams contends the $2.3 million might save money at the state level, but ultimately, municipalities and counties will be faced with the burden of paying for labor that was once provided.

"If you estimate 100 workers at each of the four centers and replace them with hourly wage employees with benefits, that's going to cost about $7-8 million," said Williams.

"We will have to replace the labor force and shift the weight locally — increasing the tax burden for us."

Williams said Epps seems to be standing his ground and plans to stick to his decision for the July closings.

"We've expressed our dissatisfaction but it looks like we're dealing with a steel wall," said Williams.

A possible method for weakening the blow to the county would be to rely on inmates held at the Bolivar County Regional Correctional Facility.

Williams said he would meet with BCRCF Warden James Moore, but he believed the facility only has about 30 county inmates who meet the qualifications to do the public work.

Another concern is what becomes of the current work center, soon to be abandoned.

"People are researching if it can become a federal prison or holding site for illegal immigrants," said Williams. "It's just an idea but it could be good for us."

Estes said local leaders would continue to fight for a more desirable result.

"We're going to keep bombarding him with letters — power in numbers," said Estes. "We're requesting that he considers the consequences and looks at other options."

According to a MDOC press release, offenders in the community work centers contributed $17,772,600 in free labor to local, county, state and non-profit charitable organizations throughout the state during the 2012 fiscal year.

MDOC will also close Yazoo County Community Work Center in Yazoo City, Jefferson County Community Work Center in Fayette and George County Community Work Center in Lucedale.