Exclusive: One-on-one with Gov. Tate Reeves

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JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – Even as he was being sworn in, Governor Tate Reeves was already facing a major crisis: inmate deaths across the state. Many of the deaths were at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.

Two weeks later in his State of the State address, the governor announced the closing on Unit 29 at Parchman.

“Unit 29 was built many many years ago. It was never intended for the classification of inmates, some of whom are in there now. So as we go and reclassify every inmate at the department, which is what we are undergoing now, it seems to me to be the right decision to make for our system long term,” explained Reeves.

While the governor received some praise for the move, some prison reform advocates think he needs to go all the way and close Parchman completely.

“We’re not going to rule anything out, but we do think closing Unit 29 is a very good first step in getting the population under control. But there are many other things. We’ve announced 10 to 12 actions that we’ve taken. And what I’ll tell you is we’re going to continue to look for ways to move the system forward.”

The governor is moving forward with finding a permanent corrections commissioner, but Reeves said he’s not going to rush the decision.

“We’d much rather get it done right than get it done quickly. I will tell you I’ve been exceptionally impressed with the Interim Commissioner Tommy Taylor.”

One issue that Reeves is not budging on is Medicaid expansion. The governor remains opposed to it, but he believes there will be some improvements to health care in Mississippi this year.

“When I talk about health care, Byron, you won’t hear me talk a lot about the institutions. Although we certainly want to invest in rural hospitals, I’m more interested in the patients, and I’m more interested in what’s best for the patient to ensure they have affordability of care and accessibility of care. Because that’s who I work for, the patients, my constituents, ultimately the taxpayers of Mississippi.”

Governor Reeves said he wants to accomplish a lot during his first year. He knows that some of his decisions in the past haven’t always been popular. He doesn’t plan to change his style now that he’s the governor.

“There’s an old saying in politics that goes something like this, friends may come and friends may go in politics, but enemies accumulate. And I made a lot of tough decisions doing what I thought was right for Mississippi.”

Besides fixing the Mississippi Department of Corrections, Reeves said there are challenges with the Department of Human Services and Child Protection Services. He’s also proposing $100 million for work force development. Reeves believes there will be a significant increase for teachers, and the legislature will have to work out the details.

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