Private Prison Tug of War

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The MDOC sent out letters Friday telling some prisons, including the East Mississippi Correctional Facility at Lost Gap prison in Lauderdale County, that the legislature failed to act on Gov. Ronnie Musgrove's veto of an appropriations bill outlining how the money should be spent.

Therefore, the DOC said, there is no money available with which to pay their leases and the state will take them over. Meridian Rep. Charles Young, who was instrumental in bringing the prison here, says he the governor's action is confusing.

"I don't understand what he's trying to do," said Young. "I did call for his office but he was in conference with the commissioner of corrections and with someone from the state attorney general's office at that particular time and so, therefore, I couldn't get his comments on what is actually taking place."

Young said he and other legislators had no advance notice of the governor's intentions and he has no real idea of what's happening.

"You have to take into consideration that our correction facility here is unique," said Young. "There's not another facility in the United States of America that deals with inmates like we deal with inmates. Our inmates are special inmates."

As a result, Representative Young said, it doesn't make any sense to put local inmates back into the general prison population.

"Well, why would we want to increase our cost 10 percent," Young said. "For the private facilities to operate they have to make a savings of 10 percent above what the state could do. What we're talking about doing is we would have to go back and make that up. If they can operate 10 percent cheaper than what we can operate at the state level, why would we want to go and put it back in the old fashion?"

Gov. Musgrove is expected to be in Meridian July 3 for the dedication of the Smithsonian Museum Exhibition at Union Station.

But Meridian attorney Bill Ready, Sr., said the state's contract is actually with the East Mississippi Correctional Facility Authority, not the operator of the prison.

"Wackenhut, which actually operates the facility has a contract with us, not the Department of Corrections," said Ready, president of the East Mississippi Correctional Facility Committee. "They've not notified me to come to Jackson and I've not been called to any meeting so any agreement they make is useless, worthless, and if they try to cut off the money this is a specialized government. We have the money. I will hire a lawyer. We will file suit."

Ready said the only thing to be determined is which court in which to file.