– Chris Epps, ,Mississippi commissioner of corrections
Two Mississippi House of Representatives committees met with Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps on Wednesday about our state’s spiraling prison populations and the costs – budgetary and cultural – spinning out of the seemingly intractable situation.
Epps told legislators his growing department will need a $29.6 million “deficit appropriation” to cover costs for the 2013 fiscal year, which started July 1, 2012. Corrections is budgeted at $339.9 million for the cycle, a 1,255 percent increase since 1980.
Studies across the United States show that raising educational attainment generally among the men and women most likely by demographic and personal background to end up in prison helps keep them out of prison because they are more likely to find fulfilling employment and thrive in the mainstream.
Nobody argues against imprisoning people convicted of crimes, especially violent crimes, but there’s room within the debate about sentencing to consider variations on the theme rather than pouring additional millions year after year into the budget for corrections. Mississippi has more than 60,000 people in the corrections system – prisoners and people on probation or under house arrest.
Full long-term funding for public education and emphasis on universal higher educational attainment in the long term could reduce at least the rate of increase in prison spending because fewer Mississippians would become criminals.
For example, were the Mississippi Adequate Education Program fully funded for 18 years, as has been the Corrections budget from 1994 to 2012, including yearly increases and deficit costs, educational attainment arguably would have increased with a resulting decline in people entering the corrections system.
Some legislators argued that perspective at the joint committees’ meeting with Epps, who agreed with the more-for-education supporters.
At some point Mississippi must come to grips with its spending priorities based on politicizing corrections policy while ignoring quantifiably better ways to do it – at great cost to taxpayers and other state-funded programs.
Federal statistics show that 68 percent of state prison inmates did not receive a high school diploma. That’s one of the reasons they’re in prison.