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Mississippi Prison Industry Program Faltering, CEO Fired

by David M. Reutter

The Mississippi Prison Industries Corporation (MPIC), a nonprofit “quasi-state agency,” is suffering financial losses and its future viability was questioned in a report by the state’s Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation Expenditure Review (PEER).

“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,” stated the PEER report, released in May 2018.

MPIC was created in 1990, purportedly to provide prisoners with job training and realistic work experiences to prepare them to successfully integrate back into society upon their release. That vision, however, was not apparent when state Rep. Jerry Turner toured MPIC’s facilities.

“It seems to me they’ve just been more interested in being a money machine than in rehabilitating prisoners,” he said. During his tours, several prisoners shared what sounded like rehearsed comments, Rep. Turner added. 

The PEER report found several elements were missing from a program that touts itself as a vehicle of rehabilitation. It noted MPIC fails to provide employment services when prisoners are released, does not offer certified technical skills training and does not employ prisoner workers in industries with job prospects.

While it apparently is failing in its official mission, the prison industry program has also failed to generate enough revenue to remain viable. MPIC states on its website that it “receives no direct appropriations from the state.” The Clarion Ledger, however, reported that it “receives a state grant of more than $250,000, sometimes exceeding $400,000.”

Rep. Turner wondered where those funds go, saying, “It’s hard to follow the money.”

In 2015, MPIC spent $242,742 in travel expenses, which was almost twice that of any prior year. That same year, the prison industry program spent more than $537,000 to lobby the state legislature.

“Why are they spending high dollars for a lobbying firm like Butler Snow?” Turner asked. “It’s just ridiculous.”

For the second time in recent years, MPIC terminated its CEO. Citing “lost confidence in his leadership,” Brad Curtis was fired on March 21, 2018 after PEER found problems with MPIC’s financial records. It noted that “many invoices from vendors ... were not located in the office,” and “discovered instances where receipts were not attached to the expense reports to substantiate the travel expenditure or business purpose.”

Financial losses, meanwhile, continued to mount. According to the PEER report, “From FY 2012 through FY 2017, MPIC’s ending net position (net worth) declined by $6.7 million, from approximately $10 million to $3.3 million and fiscal year-end cash balance declined from approximately $4.8 million to $560,707.” MPIC had a net operating loss of $628,970 through February 2018 for that fiscal year.

“It is perplexing to note that many of the same major operational deficiencies identified in the first review, conducted 24 years ago, and second review conducted in 2013, persist” in the most recent review of MPIC, the report concluded. 

PEER recommended elimination of the least profitable industry programs, seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy or dissolution of MPIC. The prison industry program’s board said it would review the report. 

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Sources: Clarion Ledger, mississippitoday.org