Before Mississippi passed a “truth in sentencing” law in 1995, the state had about 11,000 people in prison and the Department of Corrections budget was $119 million.
Now, inmate population has doubled, to 22,000 and the DOC’s budget has nearly tripled, to $340 million, reported the Clarion Ledger. Taxpayers routinely have to cover budget deficits for the prison system, and state officials are faced with the same tough question with which federal officials are grappling: How tough can we afford to be on crime, particularly nonviolent and drug crime?
Other states have had to back down from the lock them up, throw away the key laws passed years back, and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is advocating the same now on the federal level.
“We need to decide whom we are afraid of and whom we are mad at,” MDOC Commissioner Chris Epps said. “Persons convicted of low-level crimes should not continue to be tax burdens in a swollen prison system such as Mississippi’s.”
Mississippi ranks second in the nation, behind Louisiana, in per capita incarceration, length of sentences and time served.
The state Legislature this year created a 21-member Corrections and Criminal Justice Task Force of people working in the system and lawmakers. It is reviewing the state’s corrections system and sentencing laws and will make a report to the 2014 Legislature.
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