Pew Applauds Mississippi Leaders for Comprehensive Sentencing and Corrections Reforms
New law is projected to save $266 million over 10 years, and improve public safety
Washington—Governor Phil Bryant signed a comprehensive package of criminal justice legislation today that places Mississippi among the leaders of a growing number of states advancing data-driven, research-based policies that improve public safety and reduce public spending on prisons. HB 585, expected to save $266 million over the next decade by halting projected prison growth and safely reducing the prison population, passed the House with a vote of 105-13, and unanimously passed the Senate.

“Mississippi leaders came together across party lines and used data to enact one of the most comprehensive and far-reaching bills that any state has passed in recent years,” said Adam Gelb, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ public safety performance project. “Taxpayers want their dollars to produce the best possible results for public safety, and these reforms will do exactly that.”

The new law, based on policy recommendations from the 21-member Mississippi Task Force on Corrections and Criminal Justice, enhances certainty and clarity in sentencing, focuses on providing prison space for violent and career offenders, expands judicial discretion in imposing alternatives to incarceration for lower-level offenders, strengthens supervision and interventions to reduce recidivism, and establishes performance objectives and measures.

The task force, chaired by Christopher Epps, the Department of Corrections commissioner, with technical assistance from Pew, spent seven months analyzing the trends driving Mississippi’s prison population and comparing state data and criminal justice policies with national best practices. Its members included law enforcement representatives, county officials, prosecutors, defense attorneys, public advocates, and judges; victims’ advocates were also consulted.

Mississippi has one of the nation’s highest and fastest-growing imprisonment rates. The central conclusion of the task force was that there are more-effective and less-expensive ways to hold lower-level, nonviolent offenders accountable while protecting public safety.

Analysis by the task force showed that three-quarters of offenders admitted to Mississippi prisons in 2012 had been convicted of a nonviolent crime. Just 7 percent of the corrections budget is spent on community supervision programs such as house arrest, probation, or parole, even though 64 percent of offenders are on community supervision. The task force recommended that a portion of the savings generated by the legislation be reinvested in drug courts, prisoner reentry, and other evidence-based programs in the community.

Pew Charitable Trust