MONEY: Reforms could save $266M over time

moneyThis story is part of a package on justice overhaul.

Taxpayers this year are paying $339 million for the Mississippi Department of Corrections, and at the current rate of prison population growth, that would balloon another $266 million, or nearly 80 percent, over the next 10 years. The task force recommendations aim to save much, if not most, of that money.

The proposed law would create an oversight committee tasked with studying proven methods to reduce recidivism and cost in the justice system. More than 90 percent of corrections dollars are spent on housing inmates in state prisons while less than 40 percent of the people in the corrections department are actually incarcerated.

Money saved through sentencing reform would be funneled into new programs to improve the system. One starting point recommended is to fully fund the state’s felony drug courts, which were cut 42 percent for the 2014 fiscal year. Another suggested use for savings is mandatory re-entry planning for all inmates prior to their release to reduce recidivism and technical violations. Re-entry planning could include the establishment of a statewide halfway house system.

The task force recommended funding drug, alcohol, mental health, anger management and sex offender treatment for offenders on house arrest or parole, reducing their chances of becoming habitual offenders.

The oversight committee also would be charged with collecting data on recidivism rates, percentage of time served, average length of stay, drug court outcomes and prison populations to make sure the proposed policies are effective.

JB Clark