Mississippi's prison town are in danger of collapse, thanks to tiny reforms in the War on Drugs

Towns in Mississippi and other Tea Party-ruled states with large (often private) prison industries are totally reliant on state/fed funding transfers to local prisons for cash and jobs, forced prison labor to provide local services for free, and War on Drugs arrests and minimum sentencing to fill those jails. The first tiny steps toward criminal justice reform have eroded the underpinnings of the whole system, leaving the towns facing collapse.

Increasing vacancy rates in these prisons mean less revenue (and less free, forced labor), but the counties and towns still have to keep up payments on the bonds they floated to raise the money to build their prisons.

Meanwhile, "fiscally responsible" states run by slash-and-burn Tea Party governors have cut services and transfer payments (except the per-prisoner/per-diem payments), eroding the towns' infrastructure (see also), leaving the towns in a state of absolute precarity.

State lawmakers can claim to be acting conservatively, Cochran said, but they're not responsible for the consequences of their decisions. "The state's dumping responsibility on local government," he said.

"The department has had to reduce spending by $5 million to comply with Gov. Phil Bryant’s recent order," Fisher said in a February statement, citing the budget constraints as the reason for the prisoner transfers.

Fisher added that he was re-evaluating the agency's spending, given "low pay, high turnover, critical staff shortages, and aging facilities."

The state was paying prison guards so little that it couldn't even find staff for its community work centers, which run the convict labor program, Fisher said. Mississippi, in other words, couldn't even afford free labor. "I don’t like having to close community work centers, but we simply don’t have the staff to keep some of them operating. Until we improve the pay of corrections officers, staffing will continue to be a critical issue," Fisher said.

Like Mississippi, neighboring Louisiana, as well as Kansas, have recently become laboratories for conservative policy, with hard-line Republicans slashing taxes and dramatically cutting spending. The argument was that the tax cuts would fuel growth. Instead, the states have become economic basket-cases -- Kansas actually performed worse economically than its neighbors. Deficits in Kansas and Louisiana both soared and basic services have been cut beyond the bone.

Mississippi Jails Are Losing Inmates, And Local Officials Are 'Devastated' By The Loss Of Revenue
[Ryan Grim/Huffington Post]


(via JWZ)

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