For years, Mississippi has been a nationwide leader in incarceration, ranking second nationwide in incarceration rate with 749 inmates per 100,000 people. (The national average is 450.) The state took an aggressive approach to truth-in-sentencing provisions and expanded prison capacity by around 6,000 beds. As of 2008, the state was spending around $348 million on corrections, and was slated to add yet another 5,000 beds.
Time Magazine reports, however, that Chris Epps, the commissioner of the state’s corrections department, has recognized the huge economic strain that the prison system has placed on the state, and he is taking action. “We’ve got all these needs…and [we’re] spending all this money on corrections… We’ve got to decide who we’re mad with, and who we’re afraid of.”
Now Commissioner Epps has Mississippi considering GPS trackers for nonviolent offenders, which cost around $13/day as compared to the $41 it costs to incarcerate someone. Terminally ill and geriatric inmates are being released to their families, saving the state around $5 million. Epps is also pushing to expand parole and house arrest programs as well, with projected savings of around $52 million.
The reductions in incarceration have led to a drop in violent crime and the recidivism rate. Even better news? Other states are following Mississippi’s lead. The Time article highlights Ohio, which is considering broad reforms to its own system. Well done, Mississippi!