Loss of inmate labor has George Co, Lucedale leaders panicked

GEORGE COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - George County and Lucedale City leaders are scrambling to put a halt to the Correction Department's plan to shut down the Community Work Center. City and county leader say shutting down the facility would cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

Trustys are in charge of lawn maintenance, trash pickup and even do work for the water department for George County and the City of Lucedale. But that will not be the case for much longer. The state has decided to close the George County Community Work Center, along with three others around the state.

"The inmate labor is the backbone of small communities, we rely on them," Lucedale Mayor Doug Lee said. "It's going to bring everything to a halt around here for a little while."

George County Supervisor Henry Cochran said, "I don't have hard figures, but the county and the City of Lucedale would lose about a million dollars if we lose inmates, to replace the work they do on a day to day basis."

The state announced Wednesday four of 17 work centers will be shut down in July in order to save $2.3 million annually. Those savings for the state will come at a high price tag to those living in George County, because about 60 inmates work for the city and the county every day.

"The only place we have to go is the homeowners, and that's another bad blow to the homeowners if we have to start making them pay more in garbage bills and what have you. A lot of the services will be cut out," Cochran said.

Lee said city taxes would have to be doubled to compensate for the lost workers.

"Most of Lucedale the municipality is elderly, fixed income type people and they just ain't got it," Lee said.

Both Lee and Cochran have contacted the governor and other state officials to plead with them to keep the center open and the inmates working.

"We are not going to leave a rock unturned," Lee said. "We are going to fight it with whatever means we have to do to try and get someone to realize this is not in the best interest of Mississippi."

If the state does close the facility in July, in the middle of the fiscal year, officials say it will be much harder on them because they never anticipated or planned for this.

Also being in the middle of an election year, the mayor said by law the city must have 25 percent of the budget left for the new administration.

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