Local prison workers are begging for more guards and higher pay to address growing inmate violence in the Yazoo County Regional Correctional Facility.
It all comes down to manpower and competitive pay, according to Warden Jay Shaw. He said he cannot hire experienced guards who are accustomed to earning at least $14 an hour. With a $9.50 an hour pay scale, he said there is no way he can entice them to join his staff.
And with short manpower, Shaw said the situation is becoming dangerous inside the local correctional facility. During some shifts, he said he only has one guard on the floor to handle both state and county inmates, whose total run over 300.
Shaw said there are 22 guards at the facility, adding that an additional 14 guards would have the jail fully staffed.
“I can’t even sit at my desk as a warden,” Shaw said. “I have to work the floor or handle transports. There are people who want to come and work here, but not at $9.50 an hour. I simply can’t compete.”
Etta Ceasar, a correctional officer, appeared before the Yazoo County Board of Supervisors this week to discuss the need for more guards and competitive pay within the correctional facility.
“It has gotten so bad now that it is only three officers on the night shift,” she said. “We have two in the towers and one officer on the floor. Nobody will come work because of the pay. The good ones are saying that they are ready to walk out. They are speaking of a strike.”
“They are leaving us to work for McDonald’s,” she added.
Understaffing also leads to dangerous, potentially deadly, situations, Ceasar said.
“Over the weekend, one of the state inmates pulled a shank out on one of the supervisors,” Ceasar said. “That is dangerous, and this inmate is gang-affiliated. If he riots, the rest of the inmates are going to go with him.”
Paperwork has been filed with the state to transfer the inmate to another facility. As of press time, that inmate remained at the local facility. Officials said they believe the state is slow to respond to the request due to the state lockdown within its correctional facilities.
The Yazoo incident comes amidst the turmoil and bloodshed within the state’s corrections system. Five prisoners were killed and several others injured at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman. News of the riots at Parchman reached the inmates at the Yazoo facility, resulting in a riot earlier last week.
The Mississippi Department of Corrections has said the “major disturbances” are gang-related.
The state inmates in the Yazoo correctional facility are currently under lockdown, remaining in their cells at all times until the lockdown is lifted.
“It is getting dangerous for us to be out there,” Ceasar continued. “We are asking again for some help. We need more officers. You have to give them incentives to come here. If all the zones riot, there is no way we can control it. The sheriff’s department comes out every time we call. But if they are way out in the country, they can’t help us.”
Supervisor Willie Wright said the board must do something to address the jail’s manpower. But he also said the facility needs honest guards, adding that there were plenty of “dirty” employees there.
“We do have some people over there for the wrong reason,” Wright said. “We have people in positions who are behind a lot of the dope coming in there. We know for a fact that we have a problem with the staff bringing dope in. There are dirty people working over there. But, I admit, there are more good ones than bad ones.”
Shaw told The Herald he agrees that there is probably some truth to Wright’s comments. However, he said the major problem is with contraband being thrown over the facility fence. With poor lighting and only one tower guard at times, he said a lot of the contraband is coming over the fence.
“Most of the contraband is coming over the fence,” Shaw said. “If there is one guard in the tower, he can only do and see so much. At night time, it is so dark out there too. It’s dangerous. It is unsafe at this point.”
Both Cesar and Shaw complained about the staffing and the poor fence lighting to the county board last April. The county administration at the time said they would take the concerns under advisement.
“I have been here 17 months, and I have always been bringing all this up to the board,” Shaw said.