The original version of House Bill 747 would have literally and formally revived Mississippi’s late 1800’s Leasing Law that forced incarcerated persons into unpaid forced labor for private and state industry. Allowing sheriffs and judges to work in collaboration to sentence incarcerated persons to work for private companies and turn over all of their earned wages, HB 747 was ripe for abuse. HB 747 would have incentivized mass incarceration, and exacerbated and expanded Mississippi’s current problem with free inmate labor and debtors’ prisons carried out through the Joint County-State Work Programs and the State’s four restitution centers.
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. 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. In addition to mandatory reporting by Sheriff Bailey, the PEER Committee will conduct a final study of the pilot program.