How Mississippi Keeps Lowering The Prison Population


Mississippi Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps is leading Mississippi on an improbable shift: dismantling the prison system, reports Time magazine. “We’ve got all these needs” — education, health care — “and spending all this money on corrections,” Epps says. “We’ve got to decide who we’re mad with, and who we’re afraid of.” In 2008, the state legislature allowed nonviolent offenders to become eligible for parole, and the next year made people convicted of selling certain controlled substances eligible for house arrest.

“The rationale was: we still want to be tough on crime, but we had to get this budget down,” Epps says. Now, the state is testing a global-positioning device that costs about $13 a day per convict to keep tabs on someone — far less than the $41.74 cost to house and feed a prisoner. Elderly and terminally ill inmates are being released to their families, or hospices, saving nearly $5 million. He expects the number of people placed on house arrest to increase as soon as a state commission expands Internet access to rural areas. Epps will push legislation to expand inmates’ eligibility for parole — potentially lowering the prison population by 19 percent, to 17,000, within two years. Projected savings: $52 million.

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