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Alternative Methods Sought to Reduce Inmate Numbers

In a recent report, it was divulged that Mississippi taxpayers spend over $18,000 per year on each inmate in a minimum-security prison. Mississippi’s prison population has grown by roughly 17%, topping 22,600 inmates as of July 2013, and the state has the second highest imprisonment rate in the nation, costing taxpayers almost $340 million last year. These numbers necessitate reforms to the policies around imprisonment, since prison expenditures will increase by $266 million over the next ten years.

“We cannot continue down the path we are on. 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,” said Gov. Phil Bryant at a press conference in Jackson.

According to Bolivar County Warden Ora Starks, she agrees with Bryant’s sentiments and has been attempting to institute alternative options to nonviolent offenders for rehabilitation and/or punishment. ”If you try to decrease the number of individuals entering prison for nonviolent crimes it will be a very good thing but it all ultimately depends on the approach that you wish to take,” said Starks

Mississippi has several alternatives to imprisonment for non-violent offenders: non-adjudicated probation, house arrest, and probation among them. Non-adjudicated probation is a period of probation that, if successfully completed, results in expungement and no felony record. Probation is a sentence of community supervision and house arrest, which allows offenders to remain in their community under electronic monitoring.

Current statutory restrictions limit judges’ discretion in imposing non-prison sentences that often may be effective in reducing repeat offenses. ”I have been meeting with various entities to start vocational programs at our facility that will save the state some tax dollars and possibly deter inmates from becoming repeat offenders,” she added. According to Starks, one alternative method in place is something called “drug court”. If they continue to incarcerate nonviolent offenders, then they’ll be back in a situation of overcrowded prisons.

Over the last decade, Mississippi has developed an expansive drug court system and now has a drug court in every circuit. However, current law restricts many nonviolent offenders whose criminal activity is driven by substance abuse/addiction and who would benefit from a highly regimented drug court program.