Pubdate: Sun, 04 Feb 2007
Source: Clarion-Ledger, The (Jackson, MS)
Copyright: 2007 The Clarion-Ledger
Referenced: OPED: A Balanced Policy Needed
Bookmark: (Mandatory Minimum Sentencing)
Bookmark: (Sentencing - United States)
Bookmark: (Incarceration)


Whopee! Mississippi's Number 3!

Trouble is that the index in which our state has attained that lofty
status is one the taxpayers could do without.

It seems that in the noble interest of getting tough on crime,
Mississippi's policymakers have created a correctional system that is
at least equally tough on taxpayers.

As pointed out in a commentary in today's "Perspective" section by
authors Marc Mauer and Ron Welch, a recent analysis by the U.S.
Department of Justice shows that Mississippi now ranks third in the
nation, behind only Louisiana and Texas, in its rate of

This status takes on particular significance given that the United
States is now the world leader in its use of imprisonment. With 21,724
people currently in prison in the state - a 166 percent increase from
the 8,000 offenders in 1990 - Mississippi is spending $292 million a
year to warehouse this ever-expanding group of prisoners.

Mauer and Welch are advocates for the rights of prisoners. The victims
of crime and their families have other agendas when deciding the worth
of the high cost of escalating incarceration rates.

But in the interests of the taxpayers, shouldn't Mississippi lawmakers
seek to balance the system? When the state takes custody of prisoners,
the state also takes custody of the financial responsibility of
feeding, housing and providing medical care for each prisoner in a
manner that meets federal guidelines.

Meeting those guidelines means that costs escalate.

Why is Mississippi's prison population growing at such a rapid pace?
Clearly, the culprit can be found in the so-called "85 percent rule."

Prior to 1995, state prisoners were only required to serve 25 percent
of a prison sentence before becoming eligible for parole, which kept
the state's prison population relatively low and allowed state
corrections officials to alleviate overcrowding by leaving prisoners
in county jails.

Then, the national and state political landscape on prisons changed
with the advent of so-called "truth-in-sentencing" laws as a popular
campaign issue at both the federal and state level.

In 1995, Mississippi lawmakers took an apparent bold step toward
getting tough on crime with this rule. But in doing so, the lawmakers
also dramatically increased the state's prison population and
therefore the operating costs of the state prison system.

The Legislature adopted the so-called "85 percent rule" which mandated
that all state convicts must serve at least 85 percent of their
sentences before being eligible for parole. Mississippi's law was in
sharp contrast to other states, where the 85 percent rule applied only
to violent offenders.

By 1999's election year, calls were widespread to relax the rule
because of the staggering increase in prison costs.

The law was eventually amended to allow certain first-time, nonviolent
offenders to be eligible for parole after serving 25 percent of their

Only 3,022 of Mississippi's prison inmates are violent

Providing "three hots and a cot" for 22,000 state prisoners is
draining needed state tax dollars from public education and public
health care. Warehousing non-violent offenders isn't working.

The Legislature should find the political courage to do away with the
"85 percent" rule. This is not being "soft on crime" or allowing
criminals to be turned out on the streets.

It would allow corrections professionals to manage what should not be
a growing industry in Mississippi. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake