Some States End Prisoner Work Details, Straining Local Government Budgets


Prisoner work details that provide services for local governments will be overhauled in Mississippi, the latest state to scale back work for inmates, reports the New York Times. The programs once were regarded as sources of cheap or free labor for local governments, as well as employment for trusted inmates, but officials in some states have concluded that they are too expensive to maintain. While state prison systems can save money, $3.2 million a year in Mississippi, for example, many local governments are straining to replace the labor. The Mississippi change is expected to affect more than 600 inmates. Other states that have reduced similar programs include North Carolina, Michigan, and Florida.

“We expect more hard decisions in the future, and we will continue to look for ways to effectively and efficiently manage this agency,” said Marshall Fisher, Mississippi's new corrections commissioner, told the Mississippi Sheriffs' Association. “The old way of doing business is no longer a viable option.” For dozens of counties and municipalities that rely on prisoner labor collectively worth tens of millions of dollars each year, the old way has been a fiscal lifeline. In Pearl River County, where about 55,000 people live near the Louisiana border, state inmates launder jail uniforms, repair Sheriff's Department vehicles and collect litter from roadsides. They also clean certain high school athletic facilities and government buildings, and assist with local events. The state pays the county $20 a day per prisoner to house inmates in its jail. Sheriff David Allison estimates that it would cost $1.8 million a year to replace the inmates with traditional government workers who receive salaries and benefits.

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