Sheriff: Rankin County Work-Release Program Is Not ‘Convict Leasing,’ A Vestige of Slavery | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Sheriff: Rankin County Work-Release Program Is Not ‘Convict Leasing,’ A Vestige of Slavery

Jessica Broughman (pictured with her daughter, Aubrey) served time in Rankin County Detention Center from 2018 to 2021. She enrolled in the “trusty” program and later in the work-release program, eventually buying a 2009 Honda Fit for $5,000 after leaving the jail in August 2021. Photo courtesy Jessica Broughman

Jessica Broughman (pictured with her daughter, Aubrey) served time in Rankin County Detention Center from 2018 to 2021. She enrolled in the “trusty” program and later in the work-release program, eventually buying a 2009 Honda Fit for $5,000 after leaving the jail in August 2021. Photo courtesy Jessica Broughman

Jessica Broughman entered Rankin County Detention Center in December 2018 on a methamphetamine sales charge. That would be her fourth felony charge, and she feared she would get a lengthy jail sentence.

“My parents have been taking care of my daughter (Aubrey) since she was 2 years old,” Broughman told the Mississippi Free Press about her now-10-year-old daughter Aubrey in a March 23, 2022, phone interview. “During that time when I really struggled with my addiction (to heroin and meth), and I was in and out of jail a lot, they were taking care of her and raising her, which was a blessing that I had them to do that.”

The 33-year-old recalled the confused state of mind she was in as she arrived at the detention center in 2018. “I was at a really dark place in my life,” Broughman said. “I was struggling really bad with my addiction. I was very lost. I didn’t know what was going to happen next because I was already a convicted felon.”

Broughman was arrested earlier in 2018 for methamphetamine possession but bonded out before her arrest again in December that year.

From the viewpoint of the sheriff’s administrative assistant Kristi Shanks, Broughman appeared jaded and distant when she arrived at the detention center that December, which she described in a phone conversation on March 18.

Over time, though, Shanks says she saw some shifts in Broughman, including her determination to carve out a new path for herself.

“We just noticed a big change in her from being kind of hard and standoffish to becoming involved and open, receptive to things, so you just notice the change in people slowly as they grow,” Shanks said.

Broughman, who said she had been clean since December 2018, described the need to be in her daughter’s life as a motivation for change. “I was tired of not being a good mom; I was tired of having to be a mom through a jail phone,” she said. “I missed out on a lot of memorable years with my daughter and my family.”

Shanks said Broughman took advantage of all the resources that the jail offered to her.

“While she was here, she really—with all of our churches coming in and doing Bible studies—she really got in her Bible, and she let God really change her heart, and she softened up, and she had the mentality of getting out and wanting to do good and being successful and not going back to the lifestyle she was living, doing drugs and everything,” Shanks commented.

“She enrolled in college courses while she was here. She took all the classes.”

The sheriff’s office offered Broughman parenting, computer, anger-management and financial-management classes, and she took college courses through Hinds Community College.

Because Broughman suffered from addictions when she entered Rankin County Detention Center in 2018, she entered programs from Celebrate Recovery, Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous.

She was among the first offenders enrolled in Rankin County’s work-release program after the Mississippi Legislature passed House Bill 747 in 2021. The program allows Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey to send nonviolent offenders in their last year in jail outside the detention center to work with private or government entities. Bailey sent Broughman to work at Genna Benna’s restaurant in downtown Brandon beginning May 21, 2021.

Convict Leasing By Another Name?

Rep. Gene Newman, R-Pearl, submitted HB 747 in January 2021. The first iteration of the bill specifies that income the offenders earn while participating in the work-release program comes under the control of the authorities who can distribute them to pay child support, fines, restitution or other owed fees. The offender will receive the balance when released from jail.

The version that the Mississippi House passed in February 2021 added the Mississippi Department of Corrections and Mississippi Prison Industries Corporation to the list of agencies that can establish such a program, in addition to a sheriff or court, as the first version stated.

Mississippi’s America Civil Liberties Union took issue with the House-passed bill. ACLU-MS Deputy Director Alicia N. Netterville told the Mississippi Free Press on March 9 that the bill allows convict-leasing by another name.

“So just for some context, we kind of have to look back at history, to look back at the exception clause in the 13th Amendment that did not necessarily prohibit slavery, but had an exception for people who have been convicted, duly convicted of crime,” Netterville said.

During the Civil War (1861-1865), the Confederate army, representing southern states including Mississippi, fought the Union Army to maintain and expand the institutional enslavement of Black people. After the Union Army won the war official in April 1865, the country enacted the 13th Amendment, one of three Reconstruction amendments that purportedly prohibited slavery, to the U.S. Constitution.

The amendment reads, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Netterville says the practice of convict-leasing developed out of the 13th Amendment’s exception clause. “And what convict-leasing is, is when people were free from the plantation, state legislatures across the country created a plethora of crimes to justify what we know now as racial profiling in order to arrest formerly enslaved people and take them to places like Parchman, and then they will lease them back to the plantation owner, but the individual was not paid; the plantation owner actually paid Parchman.”

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History wrote that Parchman Farm—the Mississippi State Penitentiary located on a 28-acre land in Sunflower County—began operation in 1901, became the central hub for the state’s correctional system and resembled a massive antebellum plantation in many ways. Parchman now takes up more than 18,000 acres.

Netterville explained that the convict-leasing practice evolved into peonage over the years, “arresting people for debt and then, in turn, leasing them out,” the deputy director added.

EJI: Slavery Existed Until 1930s

The Equal Justice Initiative attested that slavery persisted until the 1930s in the form of convict-leasing.

“The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1865, prohibited slavery and involuntary servitude, but explicitly exempted those convicted of crime,” EJI continued. “In response, Southern state legislatures quickly passed ‘Black Codes’—new laws that explicitly applied only to Black people and subjected them to criminal prosecution for ‘offenses’ such as loitering, breaking curfew, vagrancy, having weapons and not carrying proof of employment.”

“Crafted to ensnare Black people and return them to chains, these laws were effective; for the first time in U.S. history, many state penal systems held more Black prisoners than white—all of whom could be leased for profit,” the organization added. “Industrialization, economic shifts and political pressure ended widespread convict-leasing by World War II, but the Thirteenth Amendment’s dangerous loophole still permits the enslavement of prisoners who continue to work without pay in various public and private industries.”

ACLU-MS Deputy Director Netterville said that convict-leasing supplied labor for both the private and public sectors “to build railroad (or) anything that they needed labor for; they relied on the practice of racial profiling and convict-leasing,” she added. “So we had a convict-leasing law on our books in the 1800s.”

The ACLU worked to ensure that HB 747, as the Mississippi House of Representatives passed, would not see the light of day, even though it judged that the notion of a work-release program was not inherently wrong.

“Work-release programs have proven to be a successful way to reduce recidivism,” Netterville said. “So the ACLU is not opposed to work-release, but we are opposed to work-release that mirrors convict-leasing in any shape, form or fashion.”

In a 2014 seminar research paper, Patrice Keon Pettigrew noted that inmates’ participation in educational, vocational and/or work release programs might reduce recidivism by 20% to 60%.

However, in Netterville’s judgment, House Bill 747 was an attempt to resurrect Mississippi’s 1800s convict-leasing laws. “So that bill would have literally allowed every sheriff in the state of Mississippi to have work-release program(s), but work-release programs that would have required that the incarcerated person who was working will turn over all of their income to the sheriff—just reclassified convict-leasing,” she explained.

The ACLU-MS said further conversation regarding the bill resulted in its revamping. “As a result of our aggressive advocacy, supporters of HB 747 requested meetings to explain why the bill was not an attempt to resurrect convict-leasing, slavery and sharecropping,” the organization wrote in a report. “Holding firm to our opposition of the bill, we reached a compromise that allows the Sheriff of Rankin County to implement a one-year pilot program.”

“The bill limits the pilot program to no more than 25 incarcerated persons, requires incarcerated persons to open a bank account, and caps the amount of wages used to pay child support, fines and restitution,” ACLU-MS added. “In addition to mandatory reporting by Sheriff Bailey, the PEER Committee will conduct a final study of the pilot program.” That final report is due by December 2022.

Netterville noted that the organization worked on the bill with the Rankin County sheriff. “We worked on language with him and policy with him to prevent the abuse—the financial abuse—and the convict-leasing,” she said.

“The advocates were very particular about making 747 only for people currently housed in the Rankin County custody to avoid some of the abuses seen in other programs like (in) Louisiana, where sheriffs and courts and prosecutors work together to create these convict-leasing programs.”

Louisiana has a work-release program that gives the sheriff complete control over the offenders’ wages. The sheriff disburses the inmate wages to cover food, clothing, medical and dental expenses, travel expenses, support dependents, and to pay fines and fees. The inmate gets any remaining balance upon discharge.

A Trusted ‘Trusty’ Program?

The people of Rankin County elected Bryan Bailey as sheriff in 2011. He immediately worked to stop the county’s cooperation with the Mississippi Department of Correction regarding sending some prisoners to county jail via its ”trusty” program.

“It just got to be where it was too much of a hassle, dealing with the state, the guidelines and different things like that. We ended up having a meeting with our judges and our district attorney’s office and the sheriff’s office and said, ‘Hey, we got some good people here we’d like to keep as trusties,'” Bailey told the Mississippi Free Press in a March 18 phone interview.

A 2011 MDOC manual indicated that inmates can get trusty status to work for the institution, or as a labor crew or if the inmate possesses a skill. “An inmate in trusty status may be awarded a trusty time allowance of 30 days reduction of sentence for each 30 days of participation in approved programs,” the manual said.

There were 12 possible programs a trusty can be involved in, such as what the manual calls “MDOC classified jail support.” Others include a community-based work program, a joint state-county work program, road crews, “sensitive” placement, Mississippi Prison Industries, mobile work crew, essential inmate unit support, governor’s mansion, satisfactory participation in education or instructional program, satisfactory participation in work projects, and satisfactory participation in any special incentive programs.

On the MDOC website, the agency explained that “Trusty Earned Time allows for the reduction of sentence of 10 days for every 30 days successful participation in selected work and educational programs.”

Then-Gov. Haley Barbour benefitted from the trusty practice, first pardoning several trusties assigned to him in the Governor’s Mansion who had violently murdered wives or girlfriends, as the Jackson Free Press’ Ronni Mott revealed in 2008, with several follow-ups until he left office in 2012 when the practice attracted wider media attention.

Trusty Program As Reentry in Rankin

Rankin County started its inmate trusty program as a reentry program more than 10 years ago, with funding from the community.

“So it is just a community-based effort on rehabilitation, which I think the only way it’s going to be successful is for our communities to be involved,” Bailey said. “Our churches are highly involved in this. If I have a need for an inmate, I can get on the phone and have it covered within minutes by a church.”

The Rankin County trusty program operates as follows: If an offense ordinarily carries, for example, a three-year sentence with the MDOC then the district attorney, in collaboration with the sheriff and the judge, will offer the same or a slightly longer term of confinement at the county jail in exchange for a pledge to complete specified activities in the program. The term must be a minimum of one year and a maximum of five years.

The Rankin County sheriff’s trusties work at the vehicle maintenance shop or woodshop, or they clean county buildings and take various classes like Jessica Broughman did when she enrolled in the trusty program while incarcerated. The trusties will, later on, go back to court to be released on time served and placed on probation.

“This is all on the county level with our county inmates, who haven’t been sentenced to go to MDOC,” Sheriff Administrative Assistant Shanks explained.

Sheriff Bailey commented that some people in the program have come to him at the end of their time and requested more jail time until they feel they are ready to reenter society.

“I know you’re not going to believe this, and I’ll be glad to let you talk to a couple of people that asked for it, but I’ve had people that when it was time for them to get out, they came to me crying in tears and said, ‘Sheriff, I’m not ready to get out. If I get out right now, I’m not going to make it. I’m going to fail, I’m going to get back on meth,'” Bailey recalled.

“And we went to the judge and got them six more months, or three more months or something till they felt like they were ready to leave, and then once they leave, we try to make sure they have a safe place to live, that they have a good job, and some of them would even have vehicles donated to them.”

A Missing Link: A Mountain of Fines

The Rankin County sheriff said that his unscientific conclusion was that the program had achieved around a 50% recidivism reduction. Still, he observed over the program’s 10 years that it had a missing piece.

“I noticed that these people were getting out, and they’ll have a mountain of fines,” he said. “One big problem is most of these people in their drug life or criminal life, they lost their license, they had a bunch of tickets, you know, they just had fines everywhere.”

“They’ll have fines on the charge that they’re currently in here on, so money, having some money was a big deal,” Bailey added. That is the reason for his advocacy and work with the ACLU on the work-release program that HB 747 established.

“The reason we pushed hard forward with the Legislature (is because) it was a missing link in our reentry program we’ve been doing here,” he said. “Having a little bit of money is one big thing that people need to be successful when they get out of prison.”

The version of Mississippi’s 2021 HB 747 that became law in 2021 limited the provision to Rankin County for one year as a pilot program allowing up to 25 inmates in the final year of jail time at a time, and it puts admission into the program at the discretion of the sheriff. It also limited the amount of money used for fines and restitution payments.

The bill does not allow more than 25% of the income to go to fines, child support, restitution, fees, and the cost of obtaining a driver’s license, leaving Sheriff Bailey to determine how they will spend the remaining amount. The sheriff told the Mississippi Free Press that he mandates that inmates save 50% of their income and otherwise allows them to spend 25% on anything they want.

“I knew that especially with the Mississippi Sheriff’s office in the south that I want to be real careful with them doing the work program because I didn’t want anybody to say that these inmates are being taken advantage of or something like that,” Sheriff Bailey told the Mississippi Free Press.

“So the number-one thing on my work program is I don’t touch any of their money,” he added. “They’re in complete 100% control of their money, and the sheriff’s office and the county does not get a dime of it.”

Earning Money for After Incarceration

Only those in Rankin County’s trusty program can participate in the work-release program once they meet some requirements, including a threshold number of classes. Those in the work-release program make a monthly report on their money in worksheets that administrative assistant Shanks prepares.

Shanks discussed inmates’ difficulties when they are released from jail and have no money. When combined with the hurdle of getting work, this sometimes results in involvement in illicit activity, which may ultimately result in re-incarceration.

“That’s how the work-release program started—Sheriff (Bailey) really wanted to try to help them make money while they’re here ’cause that was one thing we noticed—a lot of inmates getting out, not having a job, not having money, and then they would come right back in here. The recidivism was just so high,” Shanks told the Mississippi Free Press.

“A lot of inmates will get out and turn right back to selling drugs or prostituting, whatever they have to do to make money,” she added. “And so we just wanted to start the work program so that they can start making money while they’re here so they have a foundation when they get out and they can stay with their job so they’ll have employment and that will help them have a job, make money, so they don’t have to find how to make money in other ways.”

The sheriff said that about 11 people are currently in the work-release program because he is starting small, and that around 10 have graduated. He unscientifically judged that while the trusty program had a 50% reduction in recidivism, it’s as low as 20% for the work-release program. However, the program is still at a stage too early for a more definitive appraisal.

Businesses are lining up offering to take in those in the work-release program, the sheriff told the Mississippi Free Press. Also, inmates can receive minimum wage or more.

“I have a guy who’s a certified mechanic (worrying) that he was going to be cutting grass or something for a minimum wage,” the sheriff said. “I went to the owner of Bob Boyte Honda (Brandon, Miss.) and talked with him; they hired him as a mechanic at Bob Boyte Honda. So he’s making what the other certified mechanics make.”

“Now if somebody doesn’t have a skill, they are going to start out in a starting position. But if I have a certified electrician, I’m not going to go let him cut grass,” Bailey asserted. “I will find him a job with an electrician.”

He said that most of the women in the work-release program work at places like Genna Benna’s Restaurant and McClain Lodge as servers and hosts, and while a majority of the male participants work at locations like a welding shop, Bob Boyte Honda and Summit Foods.

Mississippi State Rep. Gene Newman, R-Pearl, who sponsored HB 747 in 2021, told the Mississippi Free Press on March 21 that the bill’s novelty is in affording inmates the ability to make money while incarcerated. “It allows people who committed a crime while they’re still in jail … to be able to actually work so that they’ll have money whenever they get out so that they can support themselves, so it’ll be less likely that they go back,” Newman said. “The program has been very much of a success.”

“You can’t have just a criminal-justice (system) that’s just about punishing people,” he added. “You’ve got to be able to figure out how you are going to help them get back into the society when they come back.”

Sheriff Administrative Assistant Shanks said she writes the work-release program’s reports and submits them to the Legislature. “We’ve already made a few reports to them, and they’re very pleased with how it’s going,” she told the Mississippi Free Press. “We did it every six months, so the last time we went was in the middle of February; we went in and turned in the latest reports that we did.”

“That will be the second report we have given them on the inmates that are working,” she added. “We gave it to the senators that are on the corrections committee.”

‘Something Meaningful Like Work’

Mississippi State Senate Corrections Committee Chairman Juan Barnett, D-Heidelberg, put forth Senate Bill 2275 this legislative session to extend the Rankin County work-release program for two more years and to allow Jackson County to similarly test the program.

“I think individuals should have the opportunity to work even if they’re incarcerated,” Sen. Barnett told the Mississippi Free Press in a March 2, 2022, phone interview. “They should still have the opportunity to participate in something meaningful like work.”

This year, Rep. Newman is sponsoring another bill, HB 586, which will remove the current one-year limit on the 2021 HB 747 and make the Rankin County program permanent.

Jessica Broughman left the Rankin Detention Center in August 2021 with about $7,000 saved from working at Genna Benna’s Restaurant between May and August 2021 as part of the work-release program while in jail, and even after she left the jail, until September that year.

Broughman bought a 2009 Honda Fit for $5,000 soon after she walked out of prison a free woman. She joined Milwaukee Tools in September 2021 as a shipping clerk through the help of one of the Celebrate Recovery facilitators. The car aided her movement to and from work.

“When she got out, she paid off all her fines. She bought a vehicle, moved back in with her mom in Madison, and got her child back,” Shanks told the Mississippi Free Press. “And now she’s working at Milwaukee Tools, has a good job, and she’s very successful.”

Broughman said that she has continued to attend Celebrate Recovery programs and is involved with a church.

“I’m just trying to be proactive,” she said. “I just want to be aware of my addiction. I want to be aware of my surroundings, but not to a point where it hinders me because that’s not the person I am today, but I think staying aware of it is always a positive thing.”

“I just want to start a life, actually live a life that I am supposed to be living.”

This story originally appeared in the Mississippi Free Press. The Mississippi Free Press is a statewide nonprofit news outlet that provides most of its stories free to other media outlets to republish. Write [email protected] for information.

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