Mississippi starts stress-reduction rooms for prison workers
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi prison system is creating stress-reduction rooms for employees amid complaints that guards and others are overworked and underpaid.
The Department of Corrections emailed a memo to employees this week saying Corrections Commissioner Pelicia Hall is having the rooms created at all sites operated by the department.
The memo says the quiet room at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman includes a massage chair, nature sounds and wellness reading materials.
“Commissioner Hall’s vision is to allow each employee the opportunity to set aside a little time every day, while at work, for meditation,” said the memo from Patricia Dean-Wilson, the department’s director of statewide operations. “This ‘quiet’ time should assist with improving employee morale, mental focus and sense of well-being.”
Robert Reeves of Leakesville, who retired two years ago after working 16 years at South Mississippi Correctional Institution, referred to the relaxation spaces as “crying rooms.”
“I think it’s about the biggest waste of money the state could do,” Reeves told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Hall told lawmakers at a Sept. 17 budget hearing that prisons are understaffed, some employees are working 12-hour shifts and many are earning poverty-level wages. She has said this many times before, and budget writers have said money is tight.
Prison guards received a pay raise during the budget year that ended in June 2016, with the starting salary going from $22,000 to $24,900. Hall is asking legislators to increase the beginning pay again to a range of $28,000 to $31,000 to match salaries in surrounding states.
She said prison employees have health problems that are at least partly because of stress.
“Because of the conditions that they work in, where you hear the clanging of cells all day, having to eat your lunch in front of offenders, not being able to just get up freely and go to the bathroom whenever you choose to — working like that for 12 hours, day in and day out, we see that it has a detrimental effect on one’s health and well-being,” Hall said.
Reeves said he is still in touch with employees at the prison. He said workers need pay raises, not stress-reduction rooms. He said some prison employees earn so little that they qualify for food stamps.
“The morale there is bad,” Reeves said. “Everyone has the same frustration, but they can’t voice it because they’re state employees.”
Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter at http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus .