A Mississippi criminal justice task force has recommended sweeping reforms to reduce the state’s soaring prison population and costs, standardize sentences and reduce recidivism, reports the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. “This is the first time in my career — 32 years — that we have taken a comprehensive look at corrections in this state,” said corrections commissioner Chris Epps. “… We all know the cost of doing nothing.” The recommendations include more discretion for judges to impose alternatives to prison and creating “true minimums” on when violent and nonviolent offenders are eligible for release.
They call for defining what constitutes violent crime — something officials said isn't clear in state law. Proposals include increasing the threshold from $500 to $1,000 for felony theft and lowering drug sentences for possession of small amounts while cracking down on large drug dealers. Epps headed a bipartisan, 21-member task force of legislators, judges, prosecutors, law enforcement and defense attorneys that worked for seven months with funding from the Pew Charitable Trust's Public Safety Performance Project to developed recommendations for the legislature. While many states have lowered their prison populations, Mississippi's has skyrocketed since it passed tough “truth in sentencing” laws in the 1990s. The state has more than 22,600 prisoners and the second-highest incarceration rate in the nation.