Sheriff to host town halls
by Rory Doyle
Jun 16, 2013 | 3324 views | 0 0 comments | 145 145 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bolivar County Sheriff Kelvin Williams will host two Town Hall meetings this month to address the concerns of Bolivar County citizens. Williams announced the forums Thursday to the Bolivar County Board of Supervisors.

The first meeting will be held on Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. at the Bolivar County Courthouse in Cleveland. The second will take place at the Rosedale Courthouse on June 27, 2013.

Citizens are encouraged to attend and voice their concerns about crime and the correctional department as a whole.

"This is an opportunity for people to meet and ask questions about different issues," said Williams. "We want people to know we are there for them and we're willing to listen to their concerns or complaints.

"We'll also try and answers as many questions as we can about the Mississippi Department of Corrections closing the Rosedale Community Work Center."

MDOC Commissioner Christopher Epps announced earlier this year that the department would be closing four of the state's 17 CWCs, including Rosedale's, on July 15 due to lack of funds and a limited number of qualified offenders.

The centers typically house 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.

"We met with the commissioner a couple weeks ago and I asked if there was any way we could house some of the inmates from the CWC at the Bolivar County Regional Correctional Facility," said Williams.

"Aside from closing the centers because of budget issues, he said there just wasn't enough inmates with the right class status to put at our facility. He wants to fill the remaining CWCs to capacity before we could get their inmates."

Williams and the BCRCF currently house 16 joint-county offenders who are classified at a different status than CWC offenders. Each group of workers has different rights and freedoms.

Williams said space for joint-county workers at the BCRCF is limited to only 24 spots.

"I'd like to see this number go up and build our program to help fill the void of the CWC closing, but based on what the commissioner said, we won't be able to get any of their inmates.

"We want to accommodate and do whatever we can to fill the void," assured Williams, who remains in constant communication with Epps about the issue. "The county relies on them."

Local leaders remain concerned with Epps's decision, saying it could cost the county about $2.5 million in annual labor wages that were previously unpaid.

Williams said the workers in his program are distributed first to county agencies; meaning local cities and towns would not have first access to their labor.

Willams added that his inmates would only work in the municipalities if they were not needed on a particular day at the county level.

Faith leaders, nonprofits and advocates from across the state have urged state officials to keep Community Work Centers open.

A letter pleading for change was sent to the commissioner this week and was signed by more than 20 agencies, including the ACLU, Mississippi Center for Justice, the National Juvenile Justice Network and the Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP.

"We need fewer prison beds, not fewer work centers," reads the letter. "We encourage you to work together with the legislature and community on three common-sense alternatives that can help keep these work centers open by cutting costs elsewhere:

* Review the records of all prisoners sentenced for low-level violations or parole revocations to determine their eligibility for release or placement in community corrections.

* Ensure that first-time, low-level nonviolent offenders and technical parole violators do not serve prison time.

* Re-examine how time earned for early release through good behavior – also known as “good time”– is allocated; and ensure that all people in MDOC custody are maximizing their ability to earn good time and be granted early release."

Despite pleas from all levels, Epps and the MDOC have shown no signs of reversing the decision.

"I don't have any reason to believe — have no indications — that they will change their minds. The center is going to close on July 15," said Williams.