LEAKESVILLE, MS (WLOX) - For the first time ever, a citizens advisory committee went inside the walls of the South Mississippi Correctional Institution for a meeting with new prison superintendent Joe Errington.
What they learned was the shocking truth of an understaffed prison.
Superintendent Errington talked about new security measures in place at the prison. Additional razor wire on the perimeter fences, and an emergency notification system are about to be set up.
This meeting was badly needed for committee member Dennis DeBar, who said, “After the last escape we just had, the confidence in SMCI was shaken. There’s no doubt about it.”
He says progress was made in this rare face to face gathering. “I as a state senator, I as a citizen of this community, just felt confident in the way he has made some of the changes.”
The major problem is staffing, with the prison operating 43% short of staffing capacity. Many employees pull double and even triple shifts.
That’s alarming for members of the committee, including county EMA director Trent Robertson. “That’s continuous eyes on the job for 24 hours, so that’s disturbing. Hopefully our lawmakers can see this and can make some changes," he said.
Those changes include more money for the state prison system. “This is important. This is right up there with education, roads and bridges. We need to take care of our facilities, and the people that work in them. Security and safety of our people is paramount," Debar declared.
Back in July, when Pretty Boy Floyd escaped from the prison, confidence in the facility was starting to erode. Today’s meeting seemed to restore some of that confidence, according to Mayor George Perkins of Leakesville.
“Well, I feel a lot better after this meeting today. I think there’s a lot of good ideas that were presented in their today. There’s a lot of effort being put forth to correct some of the problems we have here.”
Robertson agreed, “I think a lot of changes are going to be coming that is going to be beneficial to the prison and also to the safety and security of our community.”
In addition to the new security measures, two other improvements will be coming to the prison in the near future. A correctional officer training program for potential recruits will now take place every 4 weeks instead of every other month.
Additionally, a new medical clinic for prison employees should be in operation by November 1st.