PEARL RIVER COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - The Mississippi Department of Corrections plans to end state and county inmate work programs. That means the use of most inmate labor will come to an end. MDOC leaders say the move is a cost saving measure.
Pearl River County Sheriff David Allison says it will have a drastic impact on his inmate work program and to his overall budget.
Five state inmates from the Pearl River County Jail have been given the job of keeping the sheriff's fleet in tip top shape. They are mechanics and auto detailers while they serve their time. It's free labor that saves the county a lot of money.
"You know how much it costs to bring your automobile into a shop to get it worked on. It could be several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars, so I'd say a few hundred thousand dollars a year," said Allison.
He says hiring people to replace the state inmates, who do all kinds of jobs around the jail and in the community, would be financially impossible.
"If we had to hire 60 employees to replace them, that's $1.8 million," explained Allison.
Hiring a kitchen staff alone would be a major financial burden, according to the sheriff.
"Our inmates do all of the cooking here at the jail. Three meals a day. We keep about seven, eight inmates in the kitchen, because they have to prepare 350 meals," said Allison.
The state pays the jail $20 a day per inmate. That's money the MDOC says it can save.
MDOC estimates it could generate more than $3 million by eliminating the state's 30 work programs. MDOC leaders say that's money that can be put to use elsewhere.
"It's going to be devastating to Pearl River County," said Allison.
And devastating to groups and charitable organizations who rely on helping hands from state inmates. The Crab Festival in Bay St. Louis has used inmate support for years.
"It would be a tremendous burden if we didn't have that extra help. They come around, they do all the garbage. They do all of the heavy lifting for us. We very much appreciate what they do for us," said Laura Griffith, Crab Festival Publicity Chairperson.
Allison says there are legalities involved with using county inmate labor. He said most haven't been convicted of a crime, and many are awaiting their day in court.
MDOC Commissioner Marshall Fisher said in a news release the work programs would end August 1. Inmates now in the programs will be moved to MDOC's 17 community work centers across the state.
The Mississippi Sheriff's Association is expected to protest the move.