/Prison head tells legislators system needs help; other agencies also make budget requests

Prison head tells legislators system needs help; other agencies also make budget requests

Protesters shouted that “people are being killed” in state prisons before Hall was removed from the meeting. Hall did however dispute the claims of the protesters and told the Legislative Budget Committee members that the conditions in the state’s prisons were threatening the safety and health of nearly 20,000 state inmates and the approximately 1,000 corrections officers. She spoke out about the poor pay and conditions in some prisons. It will have to be fixed.” Hall spoke publicly for the first times since August’s unusually high prisoner deaths. She stated that two deaths were due to homicides. However, most of the victims were hospitalized and in poor health. Hall acknowledged that poor conditions in some prisons, including lack of air conditioning and lack of ventilation, can “exacerbate” the problems for inmates in poor health. Hall is asking for a raise in the salary of state corrections officers. They currently earn $24,900 per year. She said that she shudders to think about what it would be like to manage a household on the salaries they receive. She said that the majority of female corrections officers are in dangerous situations on a regular basis. Hall claimed that a corrections officer was attacked after she failed to bring contraband into prison for an inmate. MDOC wants an additional $3.7million for raises in pay for corrections officers, $1.7million for post-release programs and $22.3million for renovations and repairs of unit 29, Parchman Penitentiary’s maximum security unit. Hall stated that unit 29 was so bad that prisoners were smuggling goods and keeping them in decaying cinderblock walls. Monday was spent by the 14-member Legislative Budget Committee hearing budget requests from several agencies. The Budget Committee will publish a budget proposal in December that will serve as a guideline for the full Legislature, which will meet in January to create a budget for the fiscal years that begins July 1. The Budget Committee decided to only spend one day hearing requests from state agencies this year. The Committee heard from several state agencies, including Medicaid, Public Safety, and kindergarten-12th grade education. The majority of agencies will submit a budget request in writing to the Legislative Budget Committee staff. Many agencies requested raises in staff salaries, from Child Protection Services to Public Safety. The agencies demanded $764 million more than was allocated by the Legislature during the 2018 session. This is for the budget year which began this July 1. The state-support budget totals about $6 billion. The Department of Education’s State Superintendent Carey Wright provided information to lawmakers about Mississippi’s academic achievements, including improvements in reading comprehension and kindergarten test scores. The department will request additional funding for fiscal year 2020 in the state’s early learning collaborations. This funding provides funding to local communities that support high quality early childhood education and developmental services. Her department requested additional funding for the Literacy Based Promotion Act expansion and full funding of public school funding formula. The department specifically requests: * Full funding for the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, $2.4 billion in total. The program was less than $200 million in funding last fiscal year. A $6 million increase in funding for early childhood education programs compared to fiscal 2019. This is $10 million more. Wright has repeatedly advocated for this and said Monday that it was cheaper to educate young children than to help them succeed in middle school and high schools. * $16 Million to expand the Literacy Based Promotion Act, by hiring literacy coaches and providing professional development. (This is a $1.1million increase from fiscal 2019.) * $250,000 to fund the Achievement School District. When it launches, the state-run entity will assume control of underperforming public school districts, and bring them under the leadership of the state to improve academic achievement. Drew Snyder, the new Division of Medicaid executive director, announced that the agency has received zero dollars in deficit requests since its inception. Snyder displayed a flair for dramatic presentation, unfolding a large sheet of paper and reading out a list containing cost-containment steps from it. Several lawmakers laughed at his antics. Snyder said that those measures included cutting contracts and leaving unfilled jobs. He also cancelled a long-running radio ad. He said that the result was that the deficit for 2019 was reduced from $40 million down to $5 million. Philip Gunn (R-Clinton), House Speaker, stated that “We have believed for years that there are things that can be done.” FY 2020 budget request was also lower, with $984 million down to $954 million. Snyder stated that the main reason for the drop in enrollment was the decline of 4 percent over the past year. Rest assured, our philosophy is that if you are eligible for Medicaid, you should have it. Snyder stated that there has been a slight drop in Medicaid costs, which has improved the budget situation. Six months after his agency announced a budget deficit of nearly $50 million for 2018, Child Protection Services’ Jess Dickinson assured lawmakers that he would not need additional funding in the current fiscal year 2019. He did however state that the agency would require more funding for 2020, which begins July 1. He explained that the reason was due to ongoing compliance with federal Olivia Y lawsuit. The agency must hire more caseworkers and upgrade its computer system by June 2021 to ensure compliance. To support this important work, you can make a regular donation to the Spring Member Drive today. 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