Utah private prison company returns $5 million to Mississippi after finding facility understaffed

Investigations continue at two other Mississippi prisons operated by Management & Training Corporation.

(Rogelio V. Solis | AP) Mississippi Comptroller Shad White speaks at the Neshoba County Fair on July 28, 2022 in Philadelphia, Mississippi. White said Monday that a private prison company, Management & Training Corporation, returned $5.1 million to the Mississippi Department of Corrections due to staffing shortages at one of the prisons the Utah-based company operated in Mississippi.

Jackson, Miss. • A Utah-based private prison company has repaid $5.1 million to the Mississippi Department of Corrections after an investigation found it failed to provide enough workers at one of the prisons it operated, state Comptroller Shad White said on Monday.

The Management & Training Corporation sent the money to the department last week, he said.

“Every penny must be accounted for,” White said in a press release.

According to the Department of Corrections, MTC had operated the Marshall County Correctional Facility in Holly Springs since August 2012 until the state took control of it in September 2021.

The auditor’s office began investigating Centerville, Utah-based MTC in 2021 when allegations emerged that the company was not providing the proper amount of prison staff required under a contract with the state. The comptroller’s office ultimately concluded that MTC did not provide enough workers to ensure the safety of inmates and prison employees, yet the company was still paid by the state as if it had done so.

In November 2022, White filed a $1.9 million claim against MTC, saying the company left nearly 12,000 mandatory shifts unfilled at the Marshall County Jail between 2017 and 2020. White said MTC failed to notify the state Department of Corrections that prison staffing levels had fallen below the minimum required by the contract.

Dave Martinson, MTC’s communications director, said in November that the company paid vacancy penalties under the terms of the Marshall County Correctional Facility contract, which was amended by the state in December 2017. Martinson said the penalties were deducted from the company’s monthly bills to the department.

The Associated Press emailed questions to MTC on Monday about why the company paid back more money than the state auditor demanded. The company’s current communications director, Emily Lawhead, said in a statement that MTC has worked closely with the Mississippi Department of Corrections over the past decade and has “an open and transparent partnership.”

Lawhead said the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated staffing issues in prisons and that the department has given MTC permission to use staff funds for wage increases, payment of incentive bonuses and for “other alternatives to address the situation.”

“Because the contract specifies that unfilled position funds are to be returned to the state, and despite prior agreements, MTC voluntarily returned the $5.1 million,” Lawhead said. “We will continue to work hard to provide the highest level of service to the state of Mississippi.”

White said he would continue investigations at the two other Mississippi prisons operated by MTC – the East Mississippi Correctional Center near Meridian and the Wilkinson County Correctional Facility near Woodville.

White said the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office, which decides on lawsuits or prosecution cases, has the examiner’s findings from the November investigation.

Justin Scaccy

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