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Old 02-19-2004, 08:47 PM
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danielle danielle is offline
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Default Hawaii negotiating sending prisoners to Mississippi prison

Hawaii negotiating sending prisoners to Mississippi prison

SHELIA HARDWELL BYRD

Associated Press


JACKSON, Miss. - Hawaii prison inmates held in Arizona may be moving to Mississippi, and more could be coming from the islands, Mississippi corrections officials said Tuesday.

Hawaii officials, however, denied the report, saying there were no plans to send any inmates to Mississippi.

"We're not transferring inmates from Arizona to Mississippi," said Amalia Bueno, assistant to Hawaii corrections chief Frank Lopez. "We have a bed space problem, we're exploring all possibilities."

The state Senate has sent the governor a bill that seeks to keep open a private prison for the inmates in Tallahatchie County. The bill would allow Corrections Corporation of America, which runs the prison, to house maximum security inmates in the facility in Tutwiler.

The prison, which employs about 300 people, is now limited to minimum and medium security.

The Department of Corrections said Tuesday that Hawaii is expected to send at least 500 maximum-security inmates to the Tutwiler prison.

Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps said the inmates are in Arizona facilities.

Epps said CCA and Hawaii corrections officials have talked about the transfer, and Hawaii officials are expected to tour the Tutwiler facility next week. Officials will have to negotiate a contract and train prison staff before the inmates are transported to Mississippi, he said.

If the first 500 Hawaii inmates come to Tutwiler, there's been talk of 500 more prisoners coming from Hawaii, Epps said.

Bueno said the state's contract with the Arizona prison expires in June, and would only say that the state was exploring its options.

As of Monday this week, Hawaii had 1,428 inmates at CCA prisons on the mainland - 836 men and 64 women in Oklahoma and 528 men in Arizona.

The bill passed the Mississippi Senate 44-3 on Tuesday, with one senator voting present. The House had passed the bill on Friday.

Gov. Haley Barbour has said he would support private prison legislation.

Lawmakers wanted to act quickly because the facility could close March 11 after Alabama pulls out its inmates.

"Employees in Tallahatchie County have already received their pink slips," said Sen. Robert "Bunky" Huggins, chairman of the Senate Corrections Committee.

Sen. Ralph Doxey, D-Holly Springs, who argued in favor of the bill, said the change would be a "marketing tool" for CCA as it negotiates contracts with the federal government or with states to house prisoners in Tallahatchie County.

"The main thrust of what we're trying to do is keep this facility open," Doxey said.

Rep. John Mayo, D-Clarksdale, whose chamber passed the bill on Friday, said CCA is in negotiations with another state and the deal was "predicated on the bill's passage."

Lawmakers said 282 people work at the prison. The annual payroll is $6.3 million, and about $572,000 is paid annually in property taxes.

Sen. Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, unsuccessfully tried to amend the bill to require all the inmates to go through Mississippi's classification process, essentially a review of the inmate's criminal history.

Simmons said he was concerned about the safety of citizens in the region.

"Tallahatchie County is one of the poorest counties. I cannot argue against it in that regard," Simmons said. "There are many other families who are not working at that facility who will be exposed."

Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood, said three prisons operate in his district, which includes parts of Tallahatchie County. He said he doesn't believe citizens would be put at more risk if maximum security inmates were housed at Tutwiler.

"Most frightening of anything is to lose 282 jobs in a rural community that otherwise would have no way to survive," Jordan said.
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