Share story

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi’s prison system is removing some inmates from county-run jails to save money, but sheriffs are protesting the reductions.

Corrections Commissioner Pelicia Hall announced Thursday that the department is moving 400 inmates housed in 15 county-run regional jails back into state-run prisons.

Hall said in a statement that the department can’t afford to pay counties to house the inmates because it didn’t receive $3.6 million it requested from the Legislature.

The inmates were sent to regional jails after Hall closed parts of South Mississippi Correctional Institution in October, saying the state couldn’t recruit enough prison guards to properly staff the Leakesville facility. But it doesn’t appear that situation has improved. Department spokeswoman Grace Fisher said the department would attempt to accommodate the returning inmates without increasing spending, and a news release said the department will “maximize” existing staff, meaning some programs aimed at inmates will be hampered.

Clarke County Sheriff Todd Kemp, president of the Mississippi Sheriffs’ Association, said Friday that the move hurts counties because sheriffs depend on state revenue to pay for the regional facilities.

Sheriffs are scheduled to meet Monday with corrections officials. Clarke County Sheriff Todd Kemp says they will ask the prison system to remove equal numbers of inmates from privately-run prisons and the regional jails, arguing that Utah-based Management and Training Corp., which runs three private prisons for the state, should also have to bear the burden.

“We think the state has put the burden on the counties,” Kemp said. “We feel like we have not been treated fairly.”

Kemp said the state has reopened the closed parts of the Leakesville prison.

It’s the latest in a series of dust-ups between sheriffs and the prison system, usually centering on how many inmates the state would pay counties to house. Counties have grown dependent on the income to finance the operations of adjoining county jails, and on the free labor of state inmates to perform tasks such as cutting grass on government properties and even riding on county-owned trucks to pick up garbage from homes.

“Counties can’t afford to pay the guards if they don’t have inmates to guard,” Kemp said.

The state’s contracts with the 15 regional jails typically require the state to keep enough prison inmates in each to fill 80 percent of the capacity. That’s meant to guarantee that the jails produce enough revenue to pay off the money county entities borrowed to build them. The state pays counties $29.74 for those guaranteed inmates, and $20 a day for inmates above the 80 percent threshold. Fisher said payment rates won’t change.


Follow Jeff Amy at . Read his work at .