A bill designed to make Mississippi’s criminal justice system more efficient and less expensive was signed yesterday by Gov. Phil Bryant, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger reports. Bryant said the bill, which becomes law July 1, will protect public safety and could save the state $266 million in prison expenses over 10 years. The bill is modeled on criminal-justice changes in Texas, Georgia and other states with Republican governors who campaigned as being tough on crime. The Mississippi bill says anyone convicted of a violent offense will be required to serve at least 50 percent of a sentence, and anyone convicted of a nonviolent offense will have to serve at least 25 percent. Judges will get more flexibility to impose alternate sentences, such as ordering treatment for drug users.
Courts will be authorized to establish treatment programs for veterans who might have traumatic brain injuries, depression or drug and alcohol problems. For the first time, the law will specify which crimes are classified as violent, for sentencing purposes. Mississippi's prison population grew rapidly after the state in the mid-1990s said each inmate must serve at least 85 percent of a sentence. The state moved away from the 85 percent law several years ago, but Mississippi has the second-highest incarceration rate in the nation, behind only Louisiana. Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps said that with the new law, “Mississippi has positioned itself to no longer be second in the United States of America in incarceration.”