The Mississippi Legislature is considering cutting the state reimbursement to counties for housing and feeding state prisoners from $20.00 per day to $15.00, perhaps even eliminating such payments altogether.
Sheriff Billy Sollie said it would mean more than the loss of income. It would mean hiring workers to replace them.
"There's been a lot of talk about, well, we don't need these inmates. They're an expense to us. I've worked up two areas where we're currently using inmate labor and that's in the kitchen and the laundry. If we lose those 13 people, this is what we're going to pay somebody to do the job," said Sollie. "It comes down to $221,965 if we lost those 13 positions."
The current reimbursement law runs out July 1.
"So this is a fight that I think all supervisors around the state of Mississippi need to get involved with. If we lose that labor, forget the $20.00 reimbursement, because if we lose that labor we've got to come up with $221,000 or basically $222,000 dollars to provide meals for the inmates."
Sollie was asked why the county couldn't put its own prisoners to work, if state prisoners were no longer available.
"The vast majority of our inmates are pre-trial, waiting to be tried," said Sollie. "With the new order that was issued back in November, those who aren't listed as trustees, who have been found guilty, they have been removed from here within 30 days. They're gone. State law forbids pre-trial inmates from working outside the jail as trustees do."
Sollie went on to tell the supervisors they actually have a labor shortage. The county is authorized to hold 70 trusty state prisoners at hilltop house. They have only 52.
"That's 18 people that we don't have to distribute around the county. We're subdividing now. Mission Meridian had somebody every day and now is going to have somebody half a day," the sheriff said. "MCCSA is going to have that person the other half of the day. As you can see here, the Highway Patrol don't have anybody to wash their cars."
Sollie said, with grand jury warrants expected soon, he anticipates more prisoners will become available.