State's Corrections Commissioner Resigns

Robert Johnson resigned Monday as commissioner of Mississippi's Department of Corrections, saying he was moving on to another job in public safety. Johnson's last day will be Aug. 30.

"He's leaving the position to pursue another opportunity in the public safety sector,'' Gov. Ronnie Musgrove told a news conference.

Musgrove said he could not discuss the nature of Johnson's new job. Musgrove named Johnson commissioner in May 2000. Johnson said Monday it was "indeed a difficult decision on my part'' to leave the post.

"I've enjoyed working with Gov. Musgrove and I have every confidence that, with the governor's leadership, we will continue to make progress,'' he said.

Johnson has served as police chief in Jackson, Miss; Lansing, Mich., and Jackson, Mich. Johnson said while debate over the future of a private prison in the Delta was not a major factor in his resignation, "everything is a factor in making a career decision.''

Musgrove has said he intends to close the Delta Correctional Facility, a moneysaving move that is being challenged by a prisoner rights attorney and the five-member Delta Correctional Authority, which oversees the prison in Leflore County. The authority says it never received a certified letter from the state providing notification of the impending closure. The letter is required by state law, according to a lawsuit filed by opponents of the closure.

In April Musgrove vetoed $54.7 million for private prisons. Legislators did not attempt an override because an attorney general's opinion said the partial veto was invalid. Musgrove disagreed.

The governor then re-negotiated lower per-prisoner, per-day rates with four private prisons and moved to close the Delta facility. Attorney General Mike Moore says the veto was invalid because it affected a provision of the bill that prevented Johnson from moving money to other parts of the budget.

While Johnson declined at Monday's news conference to discuss his new position, he said it was an offer he had been considering for weeks before the latest controversy over private prisons. He said he hoped his resignation would not have an impact on the issue.

"Whoever the governor names will carry out the governor's policy,'' he said.