Work launch program offering new hope to Rankin Co. inmates set to increase to different counties

JACKSON, Ms. (WLBT) – An inmate work release pilot program will soon expand from one Mississippi county to three.

The Governor signed House Bill 586 into law that allows what started in Rankin County to be recreated in Harrison and Lee counties.

Angel Horton recently got a promotion to manager at the bakery where she works in downtown Brandon. But when she leaves work, she goes back to jail.

“Been in jail since July 20, 2020,” Horton explained.

She’s one of the 11 current participants in the work release program at the Rankin County Sheriff’s Office. It’s available to those in the final year of their sentence.

“People do change,” Horton explained. “And people make mistakes, and there’s a lot of good people in jail. It’s just people who’ve made mistakes and they’re having to learn from them. And that there’s opportunities for those who have made mistakes.”

Only non-violent offenders are eligible for the program that gives structure to that coveted “second chance.”

“We’re mining for gold here,” described Rankin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey as he explained finding those inmates willing to put in the commitment and work to improve. “And when we find the gold, we want to help move them and our payback to the taxpayers and everything is when these people don’t return to jail, when the recidivism goes down, because they are prepared to win when they walk out of jail.”

“They just have so much pride in what they do,” noted Rankin County Sheriff’s Office Administrative Assistant Kristi Shanks. “They have so much more hope. They are able to provide for their families right now and their children and to be able to buy their own kids birthday presents is just really exciting to them. And, and they take pride in that. So, it’s a really good program. And they’re very blessed. They tell us all the time, Thank you so much for allowing us to work. They’re saving up for cars when they get out… They’re already paying their fines off while they’re here and things like that.”

Those inmates are required to set up their own bank accounts. And right off the top, 50 percent of what they earn has to go into their savings. Another 25 percent is directed to any fines, fees or child support they owe.

And when they get out, they’re able to already have some money saved up.

Rebecca Van Huizen has already finished the program and got out of jail in February.

“Helped me kind of like get back into the groove of things in society,” said Van Huizen of the program. “I was able to have money already saved up and just have the stability and routine of getting up every day having a job, you know, it kind of took away that like boredom, What am I going to do today? and it also made my family members have more respect for me.”

Devin Jackson is learning a new skill and has started working at a metal fabrication plant.

“Just going through everything that I’ve gone through and being in the position I am now, it’s like there’s nowhere but up to look, you know what I mean?” explained Jackson. “And I’m super thankful for these people that have put me in this position and they trust me and respect me enough to do that. It’s really- it’s life changing.”

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