By Jody Owens II, Managing Attorney – Mississippi
As the managing attorney for the SPLC’s Mississippi office, I’ve seen the terrible toll the state’s broken criminal justice system has taken on its communities.
The state has the shameful distinction of having the second-highest incarceration rate in the nation – ranking behind only Louisiana, according to the Department of Justice. The last decade has seen Mississippi’s prison population grow by 17 percent to more than 22,000 prisoners last year.
Many prisoners aren’t hardened, violent criminals. Nearly three-quarters of the people entering Mississippi prisons in 2012, in fact, were nonviolent offenders, according to a task force that examined the state’s prisons. And the system fails them: Almost one in three nonviolent offenders are back behind bars within three years of their release. These statistics paint a grim future of a state with a skyrocketing prison population that costs taxpayers, communities and the people caught in this broken system dearly.
This morning, I was pleased to witness Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant sign groundbreaking reforms into law that can help repair this broken system. As a member of the task force that issued recommendations for reform, I can attest that these reforms address many longstanding issues. They help protect our communities from violent offenders but take steps to prevent low-level offenders from returning to prison.