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Mississippi Looking at New Guidelines for Criminal Sentencing, Cutting Costs

JACKSON, Miss. — The Corrections and Criminal Justice Task Force in the state met again on Tuesday at the capital to announce their recommendations heading into the new legislative session.

Emphasis has been put on public safety by Gov. Phil Bryant for the session that is only weeks away, and a comprehensive set of policy recommendations were set forth by the task force.

For some serious or violent offenders, penalties will be increased by raising minimum days a person must serve before being let out.  The task force is recommending those criminals serve at least 50 percent of their sentence before being let out, no matter what.

As for non-violent criminals and violators, they would be mandated to serve at least 25 percent of their sentence before being let out.  Also more lower-level offenders would be steered into drug courts and other alternatives to save the state money and space.

“We cannot continue down the path we are on,” said Gov. Bryant. “By enacting these policies we will improve public safety by keeping violent and career criminals behind bars, putting the appropriate resources into alternatives for nonviolent offenders, and ensuring our citizens get the best results for their tax dollars.”

In the last ten years the Mississippi prison population has grown by 17 percent, topping 22,600 inmates in July 2013.

The state also has the second highest imprisonment rate in the entire country, which costs taxpayers $339 million last year.

“Using data and research to develop a comprehensive package of policies was the right approach,” said Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves. “Mississippi is joining the growing number of states leading the way towards evidence based, data-driven, fiscally sound criminal just systems.”

If no change is made, according to the task force, prison costs for taxpayers will rise $266 million over the next decade.

“As public servants, two of our highest goals are to protect the safety of all citizens and ensure that taxpayer money is spent in the wisest and most cost-effective manner,” said House Speaker Phillip Gunn. “We must seek out ways to do a better job at both.”

The five targeted objectives below will save the state the entire growth costs of $266 million over the next decade according to the task force:

  • Ensure certainty and clarity in sentencing.
  • Expand judicial discretion in imposing alternatives to incarceration.
  • Focus prison beds on violent and career offenders.
  • Strengthen supervision and interventions to reduce recidivism.
  • Establish performance objectives and measure outcomes.

Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps said they hope to curb prison growth by targeting those areas in the next legislative session coming up in January.

“This package will achieve saving while protecting public safety and responding to requests from judges and victims for a clear and accountable sentencing system,” he said.

 

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