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Mississippi: Counties cost less than privateers.

Shelia Hardwell Byrd
The Associated Press
May 23, 2004
Jackson Mississippi

Inmate cost study could stir payment cut - Lawmaker says counties can house each for less than state's $20 a day

A legislative oversight committee is studying the cost of housing state inmates in county jails, and the findings could lead lawmakers to rethink the payments made to local facilities.

House Corrections Chairman Bennett Malone, D-Carthage, pushed for the review, saying the counties could house state inmates for a lot less than the $20 a day per prisoner Mississippi pays them.

"They already got the jail there, whether they have state inmates or not," Malone said Friday. "They already have deputies, they already have the utilities. The only increase in operating costs is food costs. We're feeding them at Parchman for less than $2 a day, and I know that they're not paying much more than that at these jails."

Malone introduced a bill during the just-ended regular session that would have reduced to $15 the amount paid to the counties. He said the move could save the state $7 million.

The proposal died after lawmakers received complaints from the Mississippi Sheriffs Association, Malone said.

Max Arinder, director of the Joint Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review, said the inmate cost study is a legislative mandate. Arinder said his staff will work with sheriffs on the study.

Each year, PEER estimates the cost of housing an inmate per day at Mississippi Department of Correction facilities. The cost per inmate day for a 1,000-bed prison was estimated at $44.36 in fiscal year 2003.

Ron Welch, an attorney who monitors Mississippi's prison system, said the PEER report will finally provide hard data on inmate costs at county jails.

Welch said that compared with private prisons, the local jails are coming up short when it comes to state money. By law, private prisons must house prisoners at least 10 percent cheaper than the state.

"There's no private business in the state getting less than $30," Welch said Friday. "It would be unconscionable in my opinion to cut the local governments from $20 when they're already way lower than what we're paying the private companies."

Welch said the county jails are beneficial because they provide work programs for inmates that save the state money.

Lauderdale County Sheriff Billie Sollie said the daily housing cost for the county is $23.37 per inmate.

Sollie, president of the Mississippi Sheriffs Association, said in 2003 state inmates worked 155,392 man-hours in community service in Lauderdale County. He said tasks performed by inmates on kitchen and laundry detail would have cost $221,965 if minimum-wage workers had been hired.

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