Eighty-eight prisoners have been sent from the Wyoming State Penitentiary to a private Mississippi prison, the corrections department announced Friday.
The transfer, which was conducted in a series of moves earlier this month, comes in response to ongoing staffing and space issues in Wyoming’s prisons. Staffing shortages mean that high security wards, which require a higher guard-to-prisoner ratio than lower-security areas, have become a burden on the prison system, said Wyoming Department of Corrections spokesman Mark Horan.
The inmates being sent to Mississippi are all high-level offenders with long sentences, Horan said, which ensures it will be years before any of them have to return to Wyoming for parole.
The majority of the inmates sent out of state are serving life sentences, said Carl Voigtsberger, corrections department classification and housing manager. The prison has closed three units in order to reallocate staff to roles overseeing more inmates.
Lower-risk prisoners have been held in county jails across Wyoming due to staffing shortages in the state prison system. The open beds created by moving inmates out of state will almost entirely be filled by inmates transferred from jails back to prison.
“I don’t think we’ve gained many beds,” Voigtsberger said.
Housing the inmates in Mississippi will come at a significantly reduced cost compared to housing them in Wyoming, Horan said. Keeping a prisoner in Wyoming State Penitentiary costs about $131 dollars a day, Horan said. The corrections department will spend $70.42 per day for the prisoners held in Mississippi.
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The men will be held in Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility, a private prison in Tutwiler, Mississippi, run by CoreCivic. CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America, has operated private prisons since the early 1980s.
Moving inmates to Mississippi came after a process that included the consideration of multiple out-of-state prisons, Horan said. Factors considered included staffing levels, vocational and educational programming and space to hold the 88 men.
Wyoming prisoners will be held separately from local inmates, according to a corrections department news release.
The prison is more than 1,300 miles from the Wyoming State Penitentiary, and Voigtsberger said the corrections department spent $52,500 to bus the inmates to Mississippi.
Horan acknowledged that additional strain will be put on the family members of inmates who are sent out of state. He said the corrections department’s hand was forced by a shortage of space in Wyoming facilities.
Voigtsberger said he did not know for sure when the Wyomingites would be brought back.
“Until we solve the problem ... it’s pretty open ended.”