There is a rather shocking statistic being reported out of the International Centre for Prison Studies this week: Mississippi locks up more people per capita than China and Russia combined. It turns out the “Hospitality State” may continue to have one of the lowest rankings in public education and employment but they will put you in jail faster than Vladimir Putin can say do svidaniya.
Here are the stats: Mississippi reports 686 inmates per 10,000 population in 2013. In comparison, China incarcerates 121 while Russia incarcerates 475 per 10,000.
The state has moved recently to give more power to judges to hand down alternative sentences. There are good reasons for sentencing guidelines, but they work best as guidelines. When you impose mandatory minimums, it tends to drive up incarceration and denies judges the ability to tailor sentencing to fit actual cases. I once testified with the judge who said that he was surprised by the lack of discretion in the federal system. After all, he said, he was selected because he had done well in law school, done well in practice, accumulated decades of experience . . . only to be told that he could not use any of that accumulated experience in sentencing offenders.
Critics have charged that the new law actually will magnify the problem because, while allowing more discretion, it also classified those convicted of drug sales, burglary of an occupied dwelling and arson as “violent” offenders. The article below discusses a case where a woman was just a month from release as a drug dealer when her parole was cancelled under the new law. The law also imposes habitual offender sentencing which will prolong incarceration. Yet, beyond these two changes, the added discretion should help with first offenders and other categories of crime.
With 19,811 people behind bars, Mississippi is still not the top incarcerating state. That distinction rests with Louisiana at 39,147 and Oklahoma at 26,927. Presumably, these states also top Russian and China combined in per capita incarceration rates.
Source: Clarion Ledger