View Full Version : Mississippi Lawmakers Likely To Revive Paying Counties To Keep Prisoners

03-20-2004, 11:29 PM
Bill on housing state inmates may be revived

Some lawmakers want to cut per-day payments to counties
By Andy Kanengiser

The Legislature must find a way to pay counties to house state inmates for another year, key lawmakers said Friday, a day after a bill on the issue died in the state House.

Since the late 1970s, the Legislature has annually approved extensions to bills to allow state inmates to stay in county jails, while reimbursing counties. The rate now is $20 per inmate per day. Many counties have come to rely on the funds.

Because of intense pressure from sheriffs and other county officials concerned, Senate Corrections Committee Chairman Bunky Huggins, R-Greenwood, said the House bill will likely be revived before the 2004 Legislature adjourns May 9.

"I'm sure we will deal with it again,'' said House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi. "It's a very important subject.''

The bill would reduce payments to counties from $20to $15 per day and is designed to save millions of dollars for the state Department of Corrections. More than 2,000 state inmates are being held in county jails.

If lawmakers make no attempt to revive the bill, the state would pay nothing to counties beginning July 1 to house state inmates, said House Corrections Committee Chairman Bennett Malone, D-Carthage.

The House will need to suspend its rules and adopt a resolution to revive House Bill 405. The 122-member chamber would need a two-thirds vote.

Malone said he doesn't believe the rules suspension will occur.

Malone refused to bring up the bill for a floor vote Thursday, the deadline to act on legislation and constitutional amendments originating in each chamber.

Malone also said he refused to bring out the bill because there would have been amendments to keep the figure at $20.

Malone predicts many of the state inmates in county jails would be shipped to the private Delta prison in Greenwood that's due to reopen in April or go to state prisons at the state Penitentiary at Parchman or Greene County.

Malone said some of the sheriffs were being "greedy" in opposing the bill.

But Hinds County Sheriff Malcolm McMillin said, "Malone should know that sheriffs don't get the money. It goes to the county general fund."

The reduction in payment would cause Hinds County to lose $1 million, McMillin said. He said he houses nearly 100 state inmates.

If payments are cut $5 per inmate, that's a reduction of $203,910 annually for Lauderdale County, said Lauderdale County Sheriff Billy Sollie, president of the Mississippi Sheriffs Association. The payments to Lauderdale County are the third highest in the state, reports show.

In 2003, Lauderdale County received $815,639 in payments to house state prisoners who also performed 155,000 man hours of community service. Lauderdale County is authorized to hold 86 state prisoners.

While some lawmakers say they want to lower the payments to counties, Sollie noted it will cost about $37 per day to house the same state inmates in Mississippi's private prisons.

Rather than cutting (the $20 per day) payments, "I'd like it to be higher than that,'' said Lamar County Sheriff Danny Rigel, whose jail has 19 state prisoners. "It costs me more than that to house them. We're taking a loss as it is.''

Senate Municipalities Committee Chairman Terry Burton, R-Newton, sides with those officials wanting to keep the rate unchanged for another year.

"The $20 per day is reasonable for the counties to receive. I don't know how we can lower the costs,'' he said.