Marshall Fisher, the commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, says he’s trying to do more with less.
Fisher, who took over the state’s prisons when Chris Epps resigned amid scandal, told a special committee of legislators studying state spending that he plans to ask the Legislature for level funding next year even though prisons face myriad challenges, including staffing shortages, aging prisoners for whom providing health care is increasingly costly, and the prevalence of mental illness among prisoners.
According to Fisher, some 400 of the corrections department’s 20,000 prisoners are over the age of 65, including the 91-year-old Edgar Ray Killen, who is serving a 60-year sentence for orchestrating the murders of three civil rights workers in Neshoba County in 1964.
Additionally, at least 17 percent of prisoner self-identify as suffering from a mental health issue, making prisons de facto mental hospitals, he said.
“It’s a serious problem for us,” Fisher said in comments to the panel.
Fisher has recently attempted to cut expenses. Earlier this year, he announced the agency would remove about 600 prisoner from regional jails in a cost-saving move. In June, the agency announced that it would close the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility in Leake County. Fisher said Walnut Grove, which was privately operated, was the most expensive prison to run.
In addition, the state is still paying debt service on some prison buildings, including Walnut Grove. The state is continuing to pay about $15 million a year in debt service at least until 2028, he said.