JACKSON — Former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore said that he and others on a new task force have already started examining contracts awarded by the Department of Corrections as they evaluate state spending with private prison companies and other vendors.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant created the five-member task force this month after former Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps and businessman Cecil McCrory were indicted in a bribery scheme that allegedly provided Epps with luxury vehicles, an upscale home in a gated community outside Jackson and a beachside condominium on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Moore, a Democrat, was attorney general from 1988 to 2004 and served on a state board in the mid-1990s that oversaw several prison construction projects after the state was sued because of crowding and poor conditions in the prisons. Mississippi, at that time, also was starting to use private contractors to run some prisons.
“Probably, there needs to be an examination of what we’re outsourcing,” Moore said in a phone interview Friday from his private law office. “Has it rapidly expanded for some reason, the last five or six years? Are there some things the state ought to be doing ourselves without contracting it out? Are we paying the best price for the product we’re getting?”
Epps, 53, was commissioner for 12 years. He resigned the $132,700-a-year job Nov. 5, and federal prosecutors the next day released the indictment charging him and McCrory, who’s a former state representative. Prosecutors say that starting in 2007, Epps steered prison-services contracts toward companies with which McCrory was affiliated as owner or consultant. McCrory’s company, G.T. Enterprises, was awarded a no-bid contract to provide inmate commissary services in 2007.
Epps is charged in 40 felony counts and McCrory in 15. Both men have pleaded not guilty, and a judge set a Jan. 5 trial date.
After the indictment was announced, Bryant ordered the Department of Corrections to review and rebid contracts. He also announced he was creating the contract review task force Nov. 7, with former Circuit Judge Robert Gibbs and attorney Andy Taggart as co-chairmen.
On Friday, Bryant announced the final three members of the task force: Moore; former Assistant Secretary of State Constance Slaughter-Harvey, who’s also an attorney and head the nonprofit Legacy, Education and Community Empowerment Foundation Inc. in Forest; and former state Rep. Bill Crawford, who’s president of the Montgomery Institute, a nonprofit group that works on community development in eastern Mississippi and western Alabama.
“The members of this task force bring a wealth of experience and knowledge in the legal field that will be valuable during the MDOC contracts review process,” Bryant said in a news release.
The group will start conducting public meetings in December. Moore said the documents they’ve received so far will allow members to do homework before then.