Mississippi’s five-year-old sentencing and prison reforms, touted by President Trump as “fantastic” during his stumping for the federal First Step Act, were supposed to divert drug defendants from prison, improve prison reentry services, and keep offenders guilty of technical probation violations from returning to prison. But the implementation of those reforms has been marked by broken promises and a lack of funding, according to interviews, data and documents reviewed by the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica.
Savings from reduced incarceration have helped pay for corporate tax cuts instead of getting reinvested in programs for offenders. “We’ve not spent one dime more on reentry, drug treatment and mental health counseling,” said Hal Kittrell, who chaired the Corrections and Criminal Justice Oversight Task Force and is a past president of the Mississippi Prosecutors Association. “Where did the money go?” Meanwhile, the number of prisoners is creeping back up, and the lack of funding and staff is contributing to worsening conditions. One bright spot: the Corrections Department has increased its funding for transitional beds, which are similar to halfway houses.