New program puts money in pockets of Mississippi’s non-violent offenders, aims to reduce recidivism

Published: Nov. 7, 2022 at 10:17 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - The Mississippi Department of Corrections is allowing some inmates to work jobs outside of prison.

It’s part of a new program that aims to better prepare non-violent offenders for their release and keep them from going back behind bars.

The program is being run out of a new facility in Pearl.

“I feel excited,” Russell Fitzhugh said. “I feel relieved that when I do go, I have a job to go to and money in my pocket to go with.”

Fitzhugh is the first graduate of the reentry parole program. Two years of his life were spent behind bars, and another eight on probation.

Tuesday, he’ll be a free man and doing general labor in the place that he calls home.

“I’ll be working for the City of Brandon,” Fitzhugh said.

The Mississippi Department of Corrections said it’s the first time that people who are incarcerated will be allowed to go to work on a daily basis.

“We have to get out of the habit of trying to find jobs after they’ve been released. We’ve got to find jobs while they’re incarcerated,” Bradley Lum, MDOC’s deputy commissioner of workforce development, said. “We’ve got to do our job to find them jobs so that before they get released into the world, we’re putting them on a path to sustainability.”

Commissioner Burl Cain said the new program wouldn’t have been made possible without Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey.

Not only did Bailey essentially donate the facility to MDOC, but he also piloted the program at his county jail per the legislature’s request.

“We have all kinds of counseling and training and different things, but one need an incarcerated person has is to have some money in their pocket when they’re released,” Bailey said. “You just can’t function in our society without a little bit of getting started money.”

Bailey said the last woman to leave his pilot program left with about $10,000 in her savings account.

MDOC is allowed to have 25 inmates in the program at any one time and plans to expand that number across the state depending on this year’s success.

According to a press release, work release participants are able to wear “free world” clothes to their place of employment. Additionally, their wage is distributed as follows:

  • 25% will be to pay off outstanding fines and fees
  • 50% will be placed into a savings account
  • 15% will go on a prepaid debit card for them to order for personal items
  • 10% will be used for administration fees

“If there’s one thing that we know, it’s that rehabilitation works and that people need labor. They need people in jobs,” Lum said. “When you match those two things together, we’re a perfect fit for that.”

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