GOLDEN TRIANGLE, Miss. (WCBI) — Mississippi’s prison population is growing faster than the state can afford.
The state houses more than 22,000 convicts, the second highest rate in the nation.
Recidivism and sentencing are how lawmakers believe that can cut costs.
“People are going to prison for having drug residue and that is just not right,” says Donna Smith.
Lowndes County Public Defender attorney, Donna Smith, has seen her fair share of people who go in and out prison for minor and violent crimes.
Now, The Mississippi Criminal Justice Task Force is searching for improvements. If not, the state could spend $266 million dollars to house new prisoners in the next decade.
Smith believes less people will be going to jail, especially those convicted of drug charges.
“These people with the really small amounts will be treated as misdemeanor as oppose to felons and the other tiers will have lesser sentences,” says Smith.
“If I have to give someone 20 years so they will serve two,” says Judge Jim Kitchens.
Circuit Court Judge Jim Kitchens says most people in prison only serve 10 percent of their sentences, but with these new regulations people who are convicted for non-violent crimes will serve 25 percent of their sentence.
“The public doesn’t realize these sentences mean nothing. They’re inflated so they will serve a little time,” says Kitchens.
Smith and Kitchens say while lawmakers are focused on cutting costs, they believe an inmate’s future is just as important.
“The department of corrections has work programs where people can learn skills they can’t use the skills when they get out because insurance companies won’t let employers hire them,” says Smith.
Kitchens believes it’s more complicated.
“You tell a bank they can’t ask if somebody has been convicted of embezzlement or stealing and they hire somebody that has and try to steal from them. Who do you think is going to get sued in that situation,” says Kitchens.
This plan will also make legislators decide which crimes are considered violent or non-violent.