The Mississippi Department of Corrections will be moving some prisoners from privately owned prisons into a refurbished state-owned facility in December.
Commissioner Burl Cain is using inmate labor to make repairs to Walnut Grove Correctional Facility in Leake County at a cost of about $1.5 million. A private contractor came in with a $10 million bid, Cain said.
Once a youth prison, MDOC closed Walnut Grove in 2016 after a Department of Justice investigation and numerous civil suits brought by the State of Mississippi against the private contractors running the facility. In 2013, it was ranked as one of the nation’s 10 worst prisons.
In a statement shortly after the prison closed, MDOC said it was considering using the facility as an “alternative to incarceration or for re-entry.”
“We do not intend for the Walnut Grove site to go unused,” then Commissioner Marshall Fisher said, but the prison has been unused since that time.
The stated reason for closing the prison was budget constraints; however, Mississippi still owes about $95 million on the structure dating back to its construction in 2001 and subsequent expansions.
Earlier this year, MDOC began talking about reopening Walnut Grove after a wave of violence and inmate deaths at Parchman and other state-run prisons revealed deplorable conditions at the older facilities.
Walnut Grove should be ready to house prisoners again sometime in mid-Decemer. The reopening could be a boon for the small town of Walnut Grove, where the prison once employed some 300 people.