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Mississippi: Private prisons too costly, report says.,1426,MCA_1497_1345234,00.html
By Deborah Bulkeley, The Associated Press
August 24, 2002

JACKSON, Miss. - The Mississippi Department of Corrections could operate prisons in Leflore and Marshall counties more cost effectively than private companies, a new report says.

The state's contract pays $28.28 per inmate per day to each prison. In a report released Friday, accounting firm Smith, Turner & Reeves of Jackson verified an MDOC study of the relationship between inmate population and spending.

"I have consistently stated that MDOC could operate these two facilities at a lower cost to taxpayers than what is currently paid by contract to the private prison operators," said Corrections Commissioner Robert Johnson.

The study was released about the same time Gov. Ronnie Musgrove called a Sept. 5 special session for legislators to deal with private prison spending and other issues.

The timing was a coincidence, said MDOC spokesman Jennifer Griffin.

The MDOC study found operating costs were lower than the contracted rates for when prisons had inmate populations of 750 and 1,000.

However, at a population of 850, the operating cost exceeded contracted rates. Capacity at the two prisons is increased in blocks of 250 beds until they reach their 1,000-bed capacity, Griffin said.

Operation was more expensive at 850 inmates because of maintenance and staffing costs associated with opening a block of cells, Griffin said.

"The contracts for the facilities call them to operate . . . 10 percent lower than the state's operating cost," she said. "Based on these numbers, there is room for discussion about whether that 10 percent rate is realized or not."

At Delta Correctional Facility in Leflore County, it costs between $26.67 and $29.19 to house a prisoner for a day, depending on occupancy.

Marshall County Correctional Facility's operating cost ranges from $28.05 and $29.

On Thursday, the Delta prison housed 816 inmates and Marshall housed 987.

Griffin said daily operating costs at each prison could be reduced by occupancies close to either the 750- or 1,000-inmate capacity.

Attorney General Mike Moore said based on state law, contracts with private prisons must be 10 percent less than operating costs at state-run facilities.

For example, according to the report, $23.84 would be the maximum the state could legally spend on the Marshall prison, based on the $26.49 daily operating cost for 1,000 inmates.

"Certainly someone ought to be asking some questions somewhere about these numbers," Moore said.

However, Moore said MDOC's reported operating costs don't reflect the prison's current medical contract with the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.

The medical contract costs about $5.60 per inmate per day, he said. MDOC projects that cost at $3.18.

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