By The Associated Press
JACKSON — Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps says the prison system faces a budget crunch, partly because the Parole Board releases fewer inmates these days.
But the Parole Board chairman, Malcolm McMillin, says it’s not his job to worry about Epps’ budget.
McMillin said decisions about parole are strictly up to the five-member Parole Board, which he has led since Gov. Phil Bryant appointed him to the post in January 2012. He said he sees no need to meet with Epps to talk about the prisons’ financial condition.
“As far as the Department of Corrections goes, I think it is up to the commissioner to be concerned as to whether or not his budget is balanced and whether he has enough money to operate is between (him) and the Legislature,” said McMillin, a former Hinds County sheriff.
The Clarion-Ledger reported (http://on.thec-l.com/10pMAKl) that Epps sent McMillin a letter last month requesting a meeting because he wants McMillin to understand how the Parole Board’s actions affect the Mississippi Department of Corrections Budget.
Epps compared two 10-month periods. He said 47.8 percent of eligible inmates were paroled from March to December 2011. From May 2012 to this past February, the board paroled 35.5 percent of those eligible.
Epps said with 539 fewer inmates released, the prison system’s cost was more than $8 million.
About 500 inmates, all of them nonviolent offenders, are eligible for parole each month, Epps said. He said MDOC provides the list to the Parole Board and is responsible for notifying inmates about the board’s decision.
“If we don’t get positive leverage out of the parole law modifications in place since 2008, MDOC will continue to need deficit appropriations,” Epps said in the letter.
MDOC had a $29.5 million deficit during the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. Lawmakers set aside $23.9 million to fill in most of the gap, leaving the department $5.6 million short.
For the 2014 fiscal year that begins July 1, the Legislature gave MDOC $337 million. That’s $7 million less than the department requested, but it’s not unusual for legislators to give agencies less money than requested.