Many sheriffs were furious. The state paid local jails $20 a day to keep an inmate. Sheriffs used the state prisoners, many of whom were low security risks, to do jailhouse chores, local road maintenance and construction. Sheriffs, who are influential political figures in Mississippi counties, angrily complained to the corrections department and attorney general's office.
Just as the controversy reached another boiling point, the legislature's audit agency released a study finding that the regional prisons, to break even, need fewer inmates than had been provided for in the notorious prison bill. Similarly, the private operators required fewer inmates to cover their costs, the study concluded.
Sens. Gordon and Huggins said they had always intended to defer to the audit agency's analysis. The numbers in the prison bill weren't binding, they added. Mr. Johnson would have to move only a total of 250 inmates, and the sheriffs could keep most of the state prisoners residing in their jails.
In its report, the audit agency cited a total of nearly $700,000 in "excessive costs" at the regional prisons, including $272,000 of the $332,000 in payments to Mr. Weissinger. He says he is paid reasonably and that his fees cover his work and that of another part-time lawyer, three legal assistants and a receptionist, as well as related overhead.
During the last week of June, white corrections department buses gathered inmates from two state prisons and headed north, toward the privately operated facilities. The buses deposited 154 inmates at the Wackenhut-run Holly Springs facility, boosting its total population to 869, and dropped another 83 at the CCA-operated prison in Greenwood, raising its tally to 843. A smattering of additional inmates went to regional prisons.
Wackenhut recently signed a two-year contract renewal for Holly Springs, with a guarantee for only the first year of at least 871 inmates. Mr. Calabrese says the company will get by with that amount for now but is likely to appeal to Mr. Johnson and legislators next year