Advocates call for 'fewer prison beds, not fewer work centers' - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Advocates call for 'fewer prison beds, not fewer work centers'

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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. 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.
The trustys housed at the work centers do jobs like cleanup and beautification in the county and cities, which officials say save taxpayers millions each year. The trustys housed at the work centers do jobs like cleanup and beautification in the county and cities, which officials say save taxpayers millions each year.
JACKSON, MS (WLOX) -

There are new voices joining the chorus calling to reverse a plan to close four of the state's community work centers. Faith leaders and advocates from across Mississippi are urging the state's prison chief and the parole board to stop the closings. They credit the work centers with helping our state achieve one of the lowest recidivism rates in the country.

The only South Mississippi work center set to close is in George County. Officials there have already been lobbying lawmakers and the governor's office to keep the center open. The county and the city of Lucedale depend on trustys housed at the center do jobs like cleanup and beautification, which they say saves taxpayers millions each year.

But the 20 groups speaking out Wednesday say the work centers help the community in another very import way; they allow inmates to develop skills that prepare them to re-enter society and reduce their chances of returning to prison.

They're asking prison officials to work with the legislature and community on alternatives that can reduce incarceration – and the expense of incarceration – so that these work centers can stay open.

The recommendations include the following:

  • Review the records of all prisoners sentenced for low-level violations or parole revocations to determine their eligibility for release or placement in community corrections programs, such as the work centers.
  • Ensure that first-time, low-level nonviolent offenders and technical parole violators do not serve prison time.
  • Re-examine how time earned for early release through good behavior – also known as "good time"– is allocated; and ensure that all people in MDOC custody are maximizing their ability to earn good time and be granted early release.

The letter, signed by more than 20 community groups and leaders, can be viewed below:


June 12, 2013

Mississippi Department of Corrections
Christopher B. Epps, Commissioner
723 N. President Street
Jackson, MS 39202

State of Mississippi Parole Board
660 North Street, Suite 100A
Jackson, MS 39202

Re: Community work center closings

Dear Commissioner Epps and Parole Board Members:

The Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) proudly noted in a press release earlier this year that the state has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the country – dropping in the last three years from more than 30 percent to 27.6 percent. This is far below the national rate of 52 percent.[1]

We are proud of this fact and the leadership you have demonstrated in achieving it. Much of the state's low recidivism rate is due to community-based programs, such as community work centers that provide an alternative facility for inmates to finish serving their sentences. It offers these individuals an opportunity to develop skills and prepare for re-entering society, reducing their chances of returning to prison.

As you know, there are 17 community work centers in the state. Four – in Yazoo City, Fayette, Lucedale and Rosedale – will close July 15 due to budget cuts. We urge you to keep these centers open and find other, less harmful ways to cut spending. We must ensure that alternatives to incarceration, such as these work centers, are available in Mississippi.

Tough fiscal decisions must be made, but they must be based on common sense – not reactions that will increase recidivism and incarceration for minor, nonviolent offenses. We need fewer prison beds, not fewer work centers. We encourage you to work together with the legislature and community on three common-sense alternatives that can help keep these work centers open by cutting costs elsewhere:

  • Review the records of all prisoners sentenced for low-level violations or parole revocations to determine their eligibility for release or placement in community corrections.
  • Ensure that first-time, low-level nonviolent offenders and technical parole violators do not serve prison time.
  • Re-examine how time earned for early release through good behavior – also known as "good time"– is allocated; and ensure that all people in MDOC custody are maximizing their ability to earn good time and be granted early release.

Quite simply, there is no link between filling prison beds and safe, secure communities. Programs that re-integrate and rehabilitate people, such as work centers, make communities safer and help ensure Mississippi's recidivism rate remains low. These facilities must remain open. We urge you to consider other alternatives to closing them.

Sincerely,

Southern Poverty Law Center
American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi
Moore Community House
Mississippi Low Income Childcare Initiative
Mississippi Families as Allies for Children's Mental Health
Human Services Coalition
Children's Defense Fund – Southern Regional Office
Mississippi Student Justice Alliance
Mississippi Center for Justice
Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance
Double Time
Reverend Sally Fran Ross
Perico Institute for Youth Development and Entrepreneurship (P.R.I.Y.D.E.)
Coastal Women For Change
The Rev. C. Edward Rhodes, II, M.Div., Pastor
The Historic Mt Helm Baptist Church
The National Juvenile Justice Network
Mississippi CURE
Malcolm X Grassroots Movement
Unite One Voice of Mississippi
Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP
Mississippians Educating for Smart Justice

Copyright 2013 WLOX. All rights reserved.

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