THE MISSISSIPPI LEGISLATURE
The Joint Committee on
Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review
Report # 571
A Performance Review of the Mississippi Prison Industries Corporation
PEER received an inquiry from a legislator regarding whether the Mississippi Prison Industries Corporation (MPIC) is in conformity with its statutory mandate. The complaint alleges that MPIC might have exceeded its statutory authority because of:
- the accumulation of a large asset base;
- the sale of products not manufactured by inmates; and,
- “unreasonable” competition with private businesses.
PEER focused its analysis on determining whether MPIC’s operations are accomplishing its statutory mission and goals.
In assessing the activities of MPIC in relation to its statutory mission and goals, PEER sought to answer the following questions:
- How did the Mississippi Prison Industries Corporation begin and what is its purpose?
- How does MPIC operate?
- How well is MPIC accomplishing its statutory mission and goals?
Prison industries are work programs in correctional facilities that aim to provide real-world experience to inmates in order to increase inmates’ job skills and instill a work ethic so that they are better prepared to re-enter society and gain employment.
Although the prison industries program is not a new concept in Mississippi, the Mississippi Prison Industries Act of 1990 created the current prison industries program and defines MPIC’s mission and goals. These include providing inmates with useful activities that can lead to meaningful employment after release in order to assist in reducing recidivism, reducing the cost of state government, mirroring as closely as possible operations of private industry for rehabilitative purposes, reducing the idleness of inmates, and providing an incentive for good behavior. The law also notes that Mississippi’s prison industries should “not seek to unreasonably compete with private enterprise.”
MPIC is governed by a thirteen-member board appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the Senate. The corporation employs full-time, non-inmate employees, as well as non-inmate contract employees, and operates five traditional industry work programs at the state prisons with inmate labor. MPIC also contracts with private businesses to use inmate labor and prison space to supplement the businesses’ workforce.
In FY 2012, MPIC provided work opportunities for 338 inmates. Sales for that fiscal year totaled approximately $6.5 million and were primarily made to government entities. Net profits were $30,873; overhead expenditures totaled approximately $1.6 million; and MPIC’s assets were valued at approximately $10.2 million.
The following summarize PEER’s conclusions regarding whether MPIC is accomplishing its statutory mission and goals.
- The challenge of balancing MPIC’s statutory mission and goals with its programs--Although its enabling legislation requires that MPIC provide inmate training and rehabilitation, the law also requires that prison industries should not “unreasonably compete with private enterprise.” MPIC must strike a balance between achieving its mission and not unreasonably competing with the private sector by knowing (through collecting and analyzing relevant data) to what extent its programs are producing benefits.
- Post-release employment and recidivism--MPIC programs closely duplicate the operating activities of a free enterprise. Whether this duplication produces the desired rehabilitative results is unknown because neither MDOC nor MPIC has tracked and reported post-release employment or recidivism data for MPIC program participants and has not established post-release performance measures. Such data is necessary for MPIC to measure its success in achieving its goal of improving inmate rehabilitation.
- Inmate idleness--MDOC and MPIC share responsibility for reducing inmate idleness through various education, treatment, and work programs. For FY 2012, approximately three percent of inmates in the three state prisons (and one and a half percent of inmates in correctional facilities across the state) were involved in MPIC’s work programs. Neither MDOC nor MPIC maintains a waiting list for inmates who wish to participate in MPIC programs; therefore, it is unknown to what extent MPIC is able to serve the number of inmates who want to participate in its programs.
- Cost avoidance--One of MPIC’s statutory goals is to reduce the cost of state government; however, MPIC has not tracked its reduction of the state’s costs by operating industries with inmate labor. Thus, MPIC cannot illustrate how effective it is at saving the state money.
- Inmate work skills and employability--Due in part to a lack of direction by MDOC, MPIC has limited coordination with MDOC’s vocational education programs and has not aligned its industries with industries that are growing in Mississippi. Further, MPIC has not offered inmates classroom training or auxiliary programs through community colleges, as authorized by state law. As a result, inmates have missed the opportunity to increase their skills and their employability, which would likely provide for more successful re-entry into the community upon release.
- Use of assets--In 2005, MPIC built a men’s transition center, which provides pre- and post- job placement services to its residents for successful re-entry into the community. The transition center provides valuable re-entry services to certain inmates who are typically not a part of MPIC’s work programs in the prisons. However, PEER questions whether this is the highest and best use of MPIC’s assets, given its statutory goals to rehabilitate inmates through useful work activities (i. e., through its work programs in the prisons) and reduce the cost of state government by operating prison industries programs with inmate labor.
Also, MPIC does not have a written contract with MDOC to operate the transition center. As a result, there is an increased risk for confusion in the management of the center and with payments for operations.
- Resale and reporting of items not manufactured by inmates--MPIC does not report sales for finished goods separately from sales for items manufactured by inmates. Instead, MPIC attributes some of its sales of finished goods to its furniture/service shop, where the goods are handled and repackaged. This practice provides an inaccurate picture of the sales and net profits of the furniture/service shop.
- Time frames for capital expenditures--MPIC has approximately $4 million in cash assets. Of that amount, MPIC included approximately $3.6 million in its capital expenditures forecast dated January 2013. However, the forecast provided no time frames for when MPIC plans to spend this money.
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