Mississippi’s Legislative Leaders Push To Brand Prison Reform As ‘ConservativeBy Jeffrey Hess | Published 27 Jan 2014 03:24am |
The Republicans leadership of the Mississippi legislature appears to be putting a lot of political capital into a corrections reform package. MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports the push could be an effort to give Republicans political cover to vote for the reforms.
The corrections reform bill is likely to come to the legislature in one large bill with the intent of slowing the ballooning cost and size of the state's prison population.
Both the House speaker and Lt. Governor spoke at a prison reform panel that featured a two conservative policy groups and a former Texas legislator.
Speaker Phillip Gunn of Clinton opened the panel by laying out why prison reform should be on the conservative agenda.
"We seem to be running a deficit every year in that agency. We seem to have costs that are going up. And I think it is time that we take a look at what does society demand? What does society want when it comes to corrections," Gunn said.
The push could be to give the Republican majority political room to vote for the package without being called 'soft on crime'.
Many of the elements in the package mirror proposals by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, which is widely respected among Republican lawmakers.
Cara Sullivan with ALEC told the crowd that changing the criminal justice system is not solely a liberal initiative.
"When we do these reforms we are demanding government accountability. Government accountability is a huge point for conservatives. We want to demand the most for out of our programs for our tax payers and citizens. And just because public safety is important, doesn't mean we can give it a hall pass on spending," Sullivan said.
The effort brand this package as 'conservative' is highlighted by a quip by Representative Andy Gipson of Braxton who is a primary author of the plan.
"My name is Andy Gipson and I am tough on crime," Gipson said.
Former Texas state representative Jerry Madden also spoke at the panel saying his state reformed its prison system and saved millions while slowing the growth rate of its prison population.
"This was a conservative plan. It was saving us money. It was making us safer because we were treating people who had drug and alcohol problems and mental problems. We put additional funding to do the things that needed to be done and at the same time save us money," Madden said.
Mississippi routinely ranks number one or two for its per capita prison population and Governor Phil Bryant has warned that failure to change prison policy could cost the state 266-million dollars over the next ten years.
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