CORINTH — A lobbyist for a private prison company is resigning as warden of the Alcorn County jail in northeast Mississippi, a job he held while living more than 200 miles away in the Jackson suburb of Madison.
Irb Benjamin told Alcorn County supervisors he will step down Dec. 1. That action came several days after two inmates escaped from the jail Nov. 14, one of them for the second time since June. One of the inmates was caught quickly. The one who had escaped for a second time, 26-year-old Garnett Hughes, was jailed on a rape charge. He was captured Nov. 17.
Benjamin, who served in the 1980s and early 1990s as a state senator for Alcorn and Tishomingo counties, did not immediately return a call Monday.
Alcorn County Board of Supervisors president Lowell Hinton told The Associated Press that Benjamin’s resignation is related to the escapes.
“He said maybe some newer, fresher eyes could maybe see some things he didn’t see,” Hinton said yesterday. “With him driving from Jackson up here…he wasn’t able to spend as much time as he anticipated spending.”
Hinton said Benjamin was hired for a no-bid contract to run the jail about a year ago. Hinton said he didn’t know how much the county paid Benjamin and Mississippi Correctional Management Inc., the company for which Benjamin is a registered lobbyist.
The supervisors’ attorney could not immediately be reached for details about the contract.
The Mississippi Department of Corrections website shows Benjamin, of MCM Inc., has been warden since Jan. 1. Hinton said Benjamin had already been working as a consultant for the Alcorn County jail when the facility was built and when it opened in 2011.
The jail originally was managed by the local sheriff, but Hinton said supervisors wanted better financial management.
“Since Mr. Benjamin was already familiar with the prison and the operation of the prison and the problems we were having financially, and since he was already supposed to be our consultant, we just asked him,” Hinton said, explaining why the supervisors didn’t seek bids for a contract. “Since he had other prisons, we asked him if he would be interested, we asked him if he had suggestions. He said yes, we could try it on a trial basis.”
Hinton said he didn’t know if the contract requires Benjamin to spend a specified amount of time at the jail. Hinton said some jail employees told him Benjamin typically did not work a 9-to-5 schedule but would appear at the jail during night shifts to check on operations and make sure people were working.
Benjamin has worked as a prison consultant in other parts of the state. In 2008, DeSoto County supervisors hired him and MCM for a $3,000-a month consulting contract. Benjamin said at the time that he had been in the prison business for 15 years.