Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Mississippi: Leading the Way on Prison Reform?

The Pew Center on the States, part of the Pew Charitable Trusts, has just released a memorandum to Pew from the JFA Institute. The JFA Institute Memorandum analyzes the effect of the return to a policy of limited release of offenders from the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

The Pew Center reports:

The worst fiscal downturn since the Great Depression has prompted many states to reexamine sentencing policy, length of incarceration and community supervision strategies. Mississippi provides an example of a state that, prior to the fiscal crisis, began a series of sentencing reforms with broad support that were designed to enhance public safety and control corrections costs by concentrating its prison space on more serious offenders.

Preliminary analysis conducted by the JFA Institute shows that the reforms averted a major prison crowding crisis while maintaining public safety. The most significant reform changed the state's "truth-in-sentencing" law by permitting all nonviolent offenders to become eligible for parole after serving 25 percent of their prison sentence, down from the requirement of 85 percent that was established in 1995. This change was passed by the legislature and signed into law in 2008 by Governor Haley Barbour.
The report is encouraging:

By instituting changes to its parole eligibility requirements and parole risk assessment instrument, between July 2008 and August 2009 Mississippi released 3,076 inmates earlier than they would have been under prior law. The median sentence reduction of those released was 13 months.

Through August 2009, only 121 of those released offenders have been returned to custody—116 for technical violations of parole; five for non-violent offenses. One reason for the low recidivism rate is the use of a newly-developed risk assessment instrument to help authorities decide which inmates are suitable for release.

The JFA Institute estimates that the reforms will permit Mississippi to avoid having to build and operate an additional 5,000 prison beds over the next 10 years.
Good public policy; good results.

Congrats to the Legislature, the Governor and the MDOC for making this happen.

You can get the report here.

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