By Othor Cain,
Tate Reeves was sworn in as Mississippi’s 65th governor Tuesday, Jan. 14, prior to being elected governor, he served as lieutenant governor for the past eight years. In his capacity as lieutenant governor, Reeves presided over the state Senate and had much influence over the state budget and the funding at the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC), an agency he now says is “experiencing a leadership crisis.”
MDOC is the magnolia state’s prison system and just this past weekend amid reports of riots, prison escapes and other inhumane videos circulating on social media, two inmates died, bringing the total reported to seven inmates that have died in the past few weeks.
To make matters worse, two of MDOC’s top officials stepped down earlier this month.
Former MDOC Commissioner Pelicia Hall, shined a light on the gravity of the situation, highlighting a severe officer shortage of guards and officers that plagued the agency. Hall’s request for pay raises for entry level starting salaries for correctional officers was denied by lawmakers, while Reeves served as lieutenant governor.
In his first press briefing as governor, Reeves said, “We have all seen the catastrophe that the current state of our prison system has allowed for, we must right the wrongs. ”I believe there is a leadership crisis in the system,” Reeves said. “This starts at the top. High-quality leadership, not just money, is key.”
Reeves said Thursday, “we are going to work with the legislature and we are going to ask for the amount of funding that is necessary to properly and adequately house these prisoners.” A request that seemingly fell on deaf ears when he presided over the senate.
“We cannot rush the critical job of finding a new commissioner for the Department of Corrections. We must get this right for the people of Mississippi. I am turning to my fellow Mississippians to help me in this mission,” he said.
Reeves named Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs Jr., as chairman of a search committee that will be responsible for finding MDOCs next leader.
“We will ensure that the next leader of MDOC is transparent, open with the press and quite frankly open with the people of this state,” Reeves said. Flagg agrees. “We must find a leader who can clean up this department, institute much needed reform and bring some peace,” Flaggs said. “I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work…this work is too important to continue playing the blame game.”
Flaggs expressed sharp criticism toward those that would criticize and not join the efforts in finding solutions. “I maintain that if you are not a part of finding solutions then you are part of the problem,” he said in his office Tuesday in Vicksburg. ‘I think this is an issue or cause that the Black Caucus should get behind and help fix…the time is now.”
Flaggs a longtime former state lawmaker, who served from 1988 until 2013, will be joined on the search team by:
Greg Waggoner, retired Leake County sheriff
Jody Owens, Hinds County district attorney
Joel Smith, Harrison County district attorney
Kathy Henry, who previously served on the parole board and the governor’s juvenile justice advisory committee
Steve Rushing, Lincoln County sheriff
Sean Tindell, judge serving on the Mississippi Court of Appeals.
Reeves named Tommy Taylor, mayor of Boyle and former chairman of the House Corrections Committee, as interim MDOC commissioner until a permanent replacement is hired.