Statewide task force is working to reform the prison system - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Statewide task force is working to reform the prison system

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JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

A corrections and criminal justice task force is met at the State Capitol Wednesday.

A bill from last legislative session called for the group's creation. Members include law enforcement officers, judges, attorneys and lawmakers.

Subgroups presented their recommendations for prison and sentencing reforms to the full group Wednesday.

A study shows that 45% of the prison beds in the state are occupied by non-violent offenders.

Department of Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps says inaction will cost taxpayers another $266 million over the next 10 years.

The end of year deadline for a report by the task force is fast approaching. They're taking up the torch for criminal justice and corrections reforms.

"This is not a one, two year, three year term fix. This is a long view toward keeping people safe in Mississippi and saving money for the taxpayers at the same time," said Representative Andy Gipson-R, District 77.

Their assignment is come up with recommendations on how to get Mississippi off the number two spot for incarceration rates.  Department of Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps says the first step is to re-evaluate sentencing.

"Right now if you put drugs and property crimes together, that's 50 percent of who's in prison. We've got to decide who we're mad with and who we're afraid of," explained Epps.

Drug policy is at the center of the reform list.

"We're gonna focus on the really bad guys, the drug traffickers, the dealers, and try to expend our resources in ways that we can make sure they go to prison in prison. And then have some more flexibility on the low level offenders and save money in the process," said Rep. Andy Gipson.

The group suggested violent offenders serve 50% of their sentence and 25% for non-violent crimes. It's a sentencing certainty that the Ricky Smith, President of the Mississippi Prosecutors Association, wants. He says they currently don't know how long someone will truly serve.

"When we're dealing with that it kind of undercuts our authority in the community. And it hurts us as the prosecutors and judges to show that we are in control of what's happening with the defendants that we deal with," described Smith.

They're also proposing special locations that repeat offenders can be sent to for treatment--instead of back to the general prison population.

The group will finalize their recommendations in two weeks. It will then be presented to lawmakers when they return to the Capitol next month.

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