View Full Version : Corrections seeks additional $27 million next fiscal year

09-09-2004, 09:08 PM

Posted on Thu, Sep. 09, 2004

Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. - Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps says he needs a 10 percent budget increase of $27 million to keep up with prison population growth.

Epps told the Joint Legislative Budget Committee on Thursday the number of prisoners has grown more rapidly than expected. For instance, in fiscal year 2003, the projection was that the prison system would receive 608 new inmates. The actual growth was 1,265. The next year, the system gained 53 more inmates than projected.

"When you've got more coming in than going out, it causes problems," Epps said.

Lawmakers appropriated $266 million for the state Department of Corrections for the current fiscal year, but Epps has made a $9.9 million deficit request. Epps said he needs $303 million for fiscal 2006, which begins next July 1.

Legislative budget writers are listening to agency requests this month to prepare a spending plan for fiscal year 2006.

Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, asked Epps why his agency didn't pay a $6 million debt to the University of Mississippi Medical Center for treating inmates. Holland said the 2004 Legislature appropriated the money.

"UMC is in trouble because it never got the money," Holland said. "I think this was above your head, quite frankly."

Epps said the Department of Finance and Administration told him the $6 million was placed in the state's contingency fund.

"It never came to the Mississippi Department of Corrections," Epps said.

Epps informed lawmakers about the various cost-saving measures his agency has started. He said the agency will save $10 million through terminations and a reorganization made possible from a law passed this year. He said other bills passed earlier this year, including those designed to relieve overcrowding, will save another $6.2 million.

The prison system had 21,176 inmates incarcerated as of Sept. 1, and 24,839 on house arrest. Epps said the average prison stay is 4.2 years. He said the national average is 3.5 years.

Epps said his budget could be reduced if lawmakers were to pass legislation setting "strategic sentencing guidelines." He said it's difficult to predict how many inmates will enter the system when convicted felons get different punishments for the same crime.

Also asking for a budget increase on Thursday was Attorney General Jim Hood. His office received $6.97 million in state funding this fiscal year. Hood is asking for a $7.8 million budget next year.

Hood said he's lost 12 staff attorneys since January. He told lawmakers he wants funding to fill all 17 vacancies in his office.

Hood said he has been relying on special funds, such as fines paid for penalties, to fill agency budget holes, but "the special funds are drying up."