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Mayor: Ocean Springs would be hard hit by end of inmate work program

KAREN NELSON/SUN HERALD 
 Inmates with the Jackson County work center plant bedding plants in Pascagoula. The Board of Supervisors are considering ending the practice of using inmate labor.
KAREN NELSON/SUN HERALD Inmates with the Jackson County work center plant bedding plants in Pascagoula. The Board of Supervisors are considering ending the practice of using inmate labor.

OCEAN SPRINGS -- Sheriff Mike Ezell recommended Monday morning that Jackson County end its inmate work program rather than pick up the cost of running it from the state Department of Corrections.

Ezell told the Board of Supervisors they would have to hire 10 people to run it and the cost could exceed $1 million, with salaries, building maintenance and other operating costs.

The state-funded program has 40 inmates right now, housed at the work center in Pascagoula, and farms out free labor to the cities and county.

Jackson County has 18 inmates assigned to buildings, the golf course and other areas.

County supervisors said Monday the loss of the free labor could cost the county as much as $1.5 million.

County Administrator Brian Fulton said he would need to inventory how many workers they would have to hire to make up for the loss of labor. It many not be 18, he told the Board of Supervisors.

Ocean Springs, on the other hand, would be hard hit, said Mayor Connie Moran. That city has up to 16 inmates assigned to the Public Works and Parks and Recreation departments, 13 currently.

"It would be a huge burden on us," Moran said, "especially regarding beautification and day-to-day maintenance."

They would have to monitor and measure the work not getting done, she said.

"Then we would either cut back on the work we can achieve or hire people," she said. "But that takes money."

She said once again, the state cuts its budget and shifts the burden to the cities and counties.

The inmates are usually drug offenders, convicted of petty thefts and larceny, the sheriff said, and handle work ranging from custodial to landscaping. Crews pick up trash along roadways.

Free labor isn't free

The MDOC houses inmates at a work center in Pascagoula and farms them out as labor free to cities and the county. It has similar programs in counties on the Coast and around the state.

But last year MDOC warned of ending the state-sponsored program because cost has been increasing. What cost MDOC $634,000 for the center four years ago, now costs $1 million.

If the county were to pick up the program, it would have to house and care for the inmates, but also provide alcohol and drug treatment, as well as GED programs for all inmates.

Jackson County Sheriff Mike Ezell told supervisors it's going to be a big decision whether or not to try and keep the work center, ultimately on them.

The county could house up to 100 inmates, but probably wouldn't be able to get that many.

In Jackson County, Pascagoula has three inmates assigned, Moss Point has three and Gautier has none.

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