Mississippi also has the grim distinction of being the nation’s leader in terms of average prison sentences, at 6.05 years, compared to the national average of 5.42. For a relatively small state in terms of population, Mississippi has 22,000 people in custody and another 39,000 under supervision.
The numbers announced by the Mississippi Department of Corrections also showed what was likely the root cause of the trouble. A shocking seventy-eight percent of the inmates in the state admit to using alcohol or drugs, many of whom committed crimes while under the influence or to feed a habit.
Beyond the lives wasted in prison, another huge problem that these numbers represent are the millions of dollars spent housing the thousands of prisoners. The numbers regarding the average sentence length and average stay in prison has even led some in the legislature to discuss how judges reach the sentences they ultimately hand down.
The problem of prison expense is not felt only in Mississippi. California has gone so far as to reduce some crimes considered felonies to misdemeanors to avoid having to house the criminals. Other states are reducing sentences associated with some felonies.
While no one in Mississippi has suggested such bold action yet, many are saying that the sentences handed down by judges need to be carefully reviewed to make sure they are consistent across the state. The legislature might even consider sentencing guidelines similar to the ones used in federal courts. Wide discrepancies in sentences for the same crime not only raise issues of fairness before the law, but also cost the state a significant amount of money to care for prisoners.
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Source: “Analysis: Mississippi prison head makes case for funding,” by The Associated Press, published at CommercialAppeal.com.