Analysis: Mississippi gov wants scrutiny of prison spending

MGN Online

Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has ordered a thorough review of spending in the state Department of Corrections, questioning whether money has been wasted in a prison system that has been plagued by violence and shoddy living conditions for some inmates.

Posted: Feb 9, 2020 10:47 PM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has ordered a thorough review of spending in the state Department of Corrections, questioning whether money has been wasted in a prison system that has been plagued by violence and shoddy living conditions for some inmates.

“I am, if nothing else, a budget hawk,” Reeves told reporters Thursday in Jackson. “I hate spending other people's money."

Reeves inherited a mess with the prison system when he took office last month. It's one partly of his own making because he was lieutenant governor the past eight years and had a significant role in writing laws and setting state budgets.

At least 15 inmates have died in Mississippi prisons since late December. Most of the deaths happened at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, and many happened during outbursts of violence. Some were suicides.

Health inspectors have also documented problems for years at Parchman, including broken toilets and moldy showers.

Mississippi Department of Corrections leaders repeatedly told budget writers in recent years that the department was having trouble hiring enough prison guards because the pay is low and the job is stressful. Reeves and other budget writers cut the amount of state money going to corrections.

Elected officials started working months ago on a Mississippi state government budget for fiscal year 2021, which begins July 1.

Reeves was still lieutenant governor and on the 14-member Joint Legislative Budget Committee in December, when the committee released its initial set of spending proposals for the coming year. The plan included a 2.3% reduction in state spending for corrections, a drop of about $7.4 million. The reduction came partly from eliminating money for jobs that have been vacant at least six months.

As governor, Reeves released a separate set of state budget recommendations on Jan. 31, weeks after the prison violence drew widespread condemnation. Reeves suggested that the corrections system receive the same amount of money in the coming year as it is receiving in the current year.

Reeves said Thursday that an initial review of spending practices found the Department of Corrections might have given compensatory time payments to people on the higher end of its pay scale. He also questioned whether the department needs the 60 vehicles he said it has.

Budget writers are supposed to agree on an overall state spending plan before the legislative session ends in early May. The new governor said Mississippi could spend more than currently suggested on the prison system.

“I'm willing to invest here because it's worth it, because lives are at stake," Reeves said. ”What I'm not willing to do is ask for a random increase in funds just because it sounds good.”

Some of the recent violence erupted in Parchman's Unit 29. In early January, when Republican Phil Bryant was in the final days of his second term governor, the state entered a 90-day contract and moved 375 inmates from Parchman to a privately run prison nearby.

In Reeves' State of the State address on Jan. 27, he said he had instructed the Department of Corrections to take steps to shut down Unit 29. Officials have not said how long that will take.

About 1,400 inmates were housed in Unit 29 when violence broke out a few weeks ago. Reeves said Thursday that the number had decreased to about 900.

The U.S. Justice Department announced Wednesday that it is investigating the Mississippi prison system. The state is still facing a federal lawsuit over prison conditions. It was filed in mid-January on behalf of some Parchman inmates, and the plaintiffs' expenses are being paid by Team Roc, a philanthropic group connected to entertainment mogul Jay-Z's company, Roc Nation.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 161516

Reported Deaths: 3916
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto10708104
Hinds10519205
Harrison7555113
Jackson6708128
Rankin6130112
Lee547697
Madison5202110
Forrest400187
Jones382189
Lauderdale3727147
Lafayette344057
Washington3367108
Lamar307550
Lowndes261167
Oktibbeha259962
Bolivar250185
Panola240253
Neshoba2311122
Marshall227151
Leflore213991
Monroe212278
Pontotoc211231
Lincoln200867
Sunflower195555
Warren184958
Tate184051
Union176826
Copiah172540
Pike168360
Pearl River163870
Yazoo162940
Scott162730
Itawamba162637
Alcorn160428
Coahoma157844
Prentiss156732
Simpson155153
Adams148352
Grenada147145
Leake143344
Holmes135761
Covington135541
Tippah132530
George131725
Winston131726
Hancock130942
Wayne124924
Attala124735
Marion124248
Tishomingo114844
Chickasaw112132
Newton112129
Tallahatchie100727
Clay97127
Clarke95653
Jasper88523
Stone83115
Calhoun81513
Walthall79930
Montgomery78826
Carroll76315
Smith75716
Lawrence75214
Yalobusha74428
Noxubee74217
Perry69326
Tunica63519
Greene63022
Jefferson Davis60217
Amite59315
Claiborne59316
Humphreys55719
Quitman5117
Benton50518
Kemper49318
Webster47914
Wilkinson41322
Jefferson38712
Franklin3726
Choctaw3697
Sharkey33117
Issaquena1234
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 260359

Reported Deaths: 3776
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson34716513
Mobile20452370
Madison14215153
Tuscaloosa13755173
Montgomery12731243
Shelby1110278
Baldwin9341137
Lee801566
Morgan722855
Etowah692170
Calhoun6809121
Marshall675058
Houston552739
DeKalb512940
Cullman480246
St. Clair460357
Limestone455046
Lauderdale443357
Elmore432567
Walker3861112
Talladega381157
Jackson361623
Colbert341546
Blount315845
Autauga289342
Franklin262634
Coffee257717
Dale244454
Dallas234932
Chilton233641
Covington232434
Russell23153
Escambia206932
Tallapoosa190291
Chambers187551
Clarke164120
Pike163814
Marion148236
Winston144725
Lawrence137336
Pickens129720
Geneva12818
Marengo126724
Bibb125238
Barbour121429
Butler120042
Randolph107022
Cherokee106724
Hale101432
Fayette99916
Clay94825
Washington93921
Henry8996
Monroe84611
Lowndes82629
Cleburne80714
Macon77122
Crenshaw73330
Conecuh72914
Lamar7258
Bullock70919
Perry6987
Wilcox65518
Sumter59522
Greene44518
Choctaw43519
Coosa3824
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