Jackson County

Who will trim the roses? Not inmates anymore in Jackson County

KAREN NELSON/SUN HERALDInmates with the MDOC Community Work program in Jackson County help with landscaping in Pascagoula in March. The state discontinued the program in Jackson County on Friday.
KAREN NELSON/SUN HERALDInmates with the MDOC Community Work program in Jackson County help with landscaping in Pascagoula in March. The state discontinued the program in Jackson County on Friday.

PASCAGOULA -- The Mississippi Department of Corrections has shut down Jackson County's work center, the fourth in the state to close in the last year.

The center housed inmates who have for years helped cities and the county with landscaping, public works issues, maintenance and janitorial in exchange for benefits in the correctional system.

The MDOC issued a notice that the Community Work Center in Pascagoula closed Friday "until further notice."

State Corrections Commissioner Marshall Fisher blamed "inadequate staffing," the same as the other three.

"We do not pay enough to attract enough people to work at these centers," he said. "And I don't have enough staff to share from other locations."

Key positions, including commander, supervisor and case manager are vacant. The seven correctional officers have been reassigned to units that are short staffed. The remaining 22 inmates were moved to other facilities.

The state contacted Jackson County in December. In March, county supervisors considered the cost of picking up the program.

But Sheriff Mike 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.

He recommended Jackson County not take it on.

Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran has said her city would be hard up to replace the labor the center has provided at no cost to her city.

Ocean Springs had 13 to 16 inmates on the work schedule for Public Works and Parks and Recreation departments.

She said losing them would be a "huge burden on us, especially regarding beautification and day-to-day maintenance," and that once again, the state is shifting burden and cost to local government.

MDOC now operates 11 community work centers, down from 17 a year ago. Harrison and George counties are among those that still have work centers.

"There may be more centers closing, depending on MDOC's 2017 budget," Fisher said. "I will shut down centers or programs before I lay off employees."

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