George County, Lucedale leaders fighting to keep inmate labor

GEORGE COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - The fight continues in George County to stop the Mississippi Department of Corrections from closing its community work center, which provides inmate labor hours around town.

Last month, county leaders learned four of 17 centers across the state would close to save money. But the move will end up costing George County taxpayers money.

The airwaves were buzzing Tuesday at WRBE Radio as officials and citizens encouraged folks to speak out against inmate labor leaving George County.

"You act so we will not lose the CWC, which we need so desperately here in George County," WRBE Radio Owner Larry Shirley said.

"Our CWC has been here for 25 years. When you have something a part of the community for 25 years, it is just part of the foundation," Community Development Director Ken Flanagan said.

The trustys housed at the center do jobs like cleanup and beautification in the county and cities, which officials say save taxpayers millions each year. But with the July closing date for the center quickly approaching, County Supervisor Kelly Wright said the effort has been put into overdrive.

"We started day one fighting it, which was contacting our body legislative body and then getting them to contact the governor's office. We have meetings lined up for next week.  We are also trying to get the other counties to join in the fight," Wright said.

To also get more taxpayers involved the fight, the county has started a petition to save the center.

"We have not had anybody turns us down when we asked them to sign the petition," business owner Marsha Peters said.

So far, 600 residents have signed the petitions, and officials are expecting to have 1,000 signatures by the time they send it to Governor Bryant next week.

"We are very optimistic. I think once the governor sees the impact that it is going to have on these counties and the folks are affected by it, they are going to rethink this decision. I think they will come up with something we can live with."

More than 60 inmates work in George County and the city of Lucedale. County officials estimate a total of 125,000 man hours a year come out of the work center.  The center is scheduled to close July 15th.

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