In a press release issued today, Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps said he has reversed his decision to close four Community Work Centers across the state, including Rosedale’s, on July 15.
“I never wanted to close these centers and only made the call after exhausting MDOC’s options,” Epps said in the press release. “I never stopped thinking about the impact on staff, the communities and the public in general. MDOC has always wanted to maintain a good relationship with local communities.”
Epps had previously held firm to his April ruling, citing budget restraints and a lack of eligible inmates as reasons to close the facilities.
“Being a good steward of taxpayers’ money while maintaining public safety is still my priority,” Epps said. “We will keep the number of offenders at these centers at the best population we can.”
Sen. Willie Simmons, one of the program’s founders, spoke with Epps Monday afternoon and first learned of the reversal.
“This is huge news for Bolivar County and the state,” said Simmons. “He indicated to me yesterday that he world rescind his order.
“He came to understand the hardship this decision would have at the local level and he was willing to keep it open.”
Local representatives estimated closing the center in Rosedale would cost Bolivar County municipalities roughly $2.5 million annually to make up for the free labor performed by CWC inmates.
The center typically houses between 75-100 inmates, booked on lighter offenses, who work at county facilities and assist city public work departments by cutting grass, picking up trash, performing janitorial work and helping at local schools.
Bolivar County Board of Supervisors President Andrew Williams said the commissioner made the right move to keep the center open.
“This is great for the county and municipalities because we weren’t going to be able to replace their labor — there’s just not enough dollars in municipalities’ budgets,” Williams said.
“Leaders across the county are excited to continue the day-to-day operations of the program.”
Cleveland Mayor Billy Nowell said he was braced for the worst knowing the approximate 15 daily workers the city received would no longer be available.
“This is a big deal for Cleveland. The pretty city we see every day was going to have a slight cutback,” he said. “I’m proud of all the hard work our state senators and representative s did for us. This is another good day for Cleveland.”
Cleveland-Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Judson Thigpen said the workers play a big role in Octoberfest, Italian Festival and Crosstie.
“It’s a big relief — we’ve been so dependent on the center for so long,” said Thigpen. “We use them for some of our festivals, but it’s amazing how much money they save the cities and municipalities.
“I appreciate (Epps) for taking time to think about it and that he rescinded his decision.”
Sen. Simmons said it was a frustrating battle since Epps’s original order, but the continued communication from local leaders played a big role.
“I have to applaud all the municipal leaders, Rep. Linda Coleman, Rep. Tommy Taylor and Sen. Buck Clarke for working hard to turn this around,” he said. “It was not looking good, but their commitment made all the difference.”
Simmons added that despite Epps’s budget challenges, the reversal shows he’s willing to work with the financial constraints felt at all levels across the state.