Report questions future, effectiveness of Mississippi Prison Industries

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Bureau of Prisons

A worker at a federal Bureau of Prisons factory makes uniforms for the armed forces.

Mississippi Prison Industries Corporation is losing money and its future viability as a program is now in question, according to a report from the Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review.

The legislative watchdog group’s report, released Monday, cites financial statements for fiscal years 2012 through 2017, when the program saw a decline of $6.7 million in net worth.

“The time has come for MPIC and the Legislature to consider seriously whether the state’s prison industries program has a future and, if so, what changes can be made operationally and legislatively to ensure that the program has a positive outcome,” the report said.

Mississippi Prison Industries is a nonprofit volunteer program aimed at providing work experience for incarcerated adults in Mississippi’s correctional facilities. The corporation solely operates on sales from inmate-made goods, such as furniture, apparel, metal fabrication, printing and other products, according to its website. Many states and the federal Bureau of Prisons have created similar agencies, which they believe can help rehabilitate incarcerated.

The primary goal of the program, as the report states, is to provide inmates with useful activities that can lead to meaningful employment in order to reduce recidivism. Yet, due to a lack of records and data maintenance, the review said it is impossible to accurately assess the program’s impact on recidivism.

The PEER report describes several key components of reducing recidivism that the program is missing, such as providing employment services after an inmate’s release from prison, providing certified technical skills training, and employing the inmates in industries with job prospects.

The committee addressed the issue of financial sustainability in two previous reports since the Mississippi Prison Industries Act of 1990, the committee stated.

“It is disconcerting to note that many of the same major operational deficiencies identified in the first review, conducted 24 years ago, and the second review conducted in 2013, persist in the Committee’s current review of the Mississippi Prison Industries Corporation,” the report said.

The report’s suggestions for moving forward include eliminating its least profitable entities, seeking protection under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code to protect it from creditors, or, if the Board of Directors see little hope in the corporation’s future, dissolving the program altogether.

The review adds that the Legislature could amend laws to transfer the program to the Mississippi Department of Corrections. Of the 49 states that have such programs, only Mississippi and Florida have versions in the form of non-profit corporations.

“The Mississippi Department of Corrections is working closely with MPIC to determine the best course of action going forward,” MDOC Commissioner Pelicia E. Hall said. “The department’s primary goal is to provide offenders with the best chance for successful re-entry.”

MPIC interim CEO Jeff Solari said the Board of Directors will meet in June to discuss the report.

“The MPIC Board and Leadership team takes this matter very seriously and the PEER booklets will be sent to each MPIC Board member for their thorough review,” Solari said in an e-mail. “Our next board meeting is in June and at that time the Board and the Leadership team will have the opportunity to discuss the PEER Committee’s analysis, conclusion and recommendations.

“The Board and Leadership team will continue to monitor operations and business  objectives. Any and all questions for comments regarding the MPIC Report will only be determined by the board after the meeting.”