State addressing over-incarceration


The  American Civil Liberties Union restated the obvious when it comes to incarceration in Mississippi.

This state has long had a history of locking up too many people, doling out overly harsh sentences and being toughest on those with the least resources to defend themselves.

So, the ACLU’s recent release of a two-year study that outlines the problem in Mississippi and most of the 50 states did not provide much in the way of new data. In fact, one statistic the authors probably intended to be damning about Mississippi — namely that it has the third-highest incarceration rate in the nation — was actually slightly encouraging to those who have been tracking this problem a lot longer than two years. 

Many Mississippi lawmakers, jurists and other officials began several years ago to realize that this state messed up big time in the 1990s when it adopted a wholesale “lock ’em up and throw away the key” mentality.

However, slowlly but surely, the state has somewhat accepted there’s a greater chance of rehabilitating nonviolent offenders whose crimes are fueled by alcohol or drug addiction by getting them treatment rather than locking them up.

The end result of this task force’s work could be the creation of uniform sentencing guidelines for trial judges that would at least reduce the inequities.

All of these changes might not cut Mississippi’s prison population in half, as the ACLU envisions. But they are a recognition by those who have the power to reform the system that an incarceration-first approach to corrections has been far too harsh and far too expensive.