JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Conditions and violence in Mississippi’s prisons are attracting national attention. And the search for a new corrections leader won’t be limited by state lines.
Thursday was Tate Reeves’ first press conference as Governor. Prison problems are dictating the way he begins his first days of his term.
“I know that a lot of people want to play the blame game and point fingers here or point fingers there,” said Reeves. “None of that really matters. We are where we are today and our job as leaders... I’ve been in this position a little less than 48 hours... our job as leaders is to develop a plan and a path forward.”
That path started with a request.
“I instructed the Department of Public Safety to assign an officer from the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation to root out the underlying issues, not only at the State Penitentiary at Parchman but throughout the department as a whole,” noted Reeves.
Reeves doesn’t want to rush the appointment of the next commissioner. Commissioner Pelicia Hall previously announced at the end of 2019 that she accepted a job in the private sector and would be leaving in mid-January. Reeves is appointing former state Representative and Mayor of Boyle Tommy Taylor as interim Commissioner.
“From his time as a chief deputy sheriff to a prison warden, Mayor Taylor has spent the bulk of his career in law enforcement, gaining a lifetime of wisdom that will be essential during this challenging time,” explained Reeves.
And he’s launching a nationwide search that will be led by former lawmaker and Mayor of Vicksburg George Flaggs. Flaggs will be joined by current and former Sheriffs, district attorneys, a judge and former member of the parole board.
“We have a duty to get this right and get it right the first time," said Mayor Flaggs. "I know Governor understands the importance of the task he has inherited. I know he’ll take it seriously and I’m grateful that he’s trusted us to provide a recommendation.”
Other members of the search group include: Retired Leake County Sheriff Greg Waggoner, Hinds County District Attorney Jody Owens, Harrison County District Attorney Joel Smith, former Parole Board and Governor’s Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee member Kathy Henry, Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing and Mississippi Court of Appeals Judge Sean Tindell.
The Transparency Mississippi site lists the maximum salary for MDOC commissioner as $133,848.87. We asked Reeves if that may be reconsidered as part of the search.
“I don’t think that anyone who ultimately accepts the role of the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections is going to be doing it for the money but at the same time we do have to offer a compensation package that is reasonable and rational and will definitely attract that top talent,” he said.
There is no specific timeline on when Reeves would like to have a permanent MDOC commissioner in place. But the search group will get to work immediately.