Mississippi has been able to reduce its relatively high prison population by reducing its average length of incarceration and releasing more inmates on parole, says a new report by the JFA Institute for the Pew Center on the States Public SafetyPerformance Project. A key was a 2008 law that permitted nonviolent offenders to be paroled after serving 25 percent of their sentences; the state had required all offenders to serve 85 percent. As of last summer, 3,076 inmates had been released under the change in a state with 22,800 inmates in 2007.
The JFA Institute had estimated that the state’s prison population would grow nearly to 28,000; now, it is not expected to increase. Of the released prisoners under the new law, only 4 percent had been returned to custody, a small fraction of the national recidivism rate. On average, the released prisoners served about half their stated sentences. The report concluded that the “Mississippi reforms have averted a major prison crowding crisis both now and for the future, and have done so while maintaining public safety.”