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Senate Approves Prison Reform Plan

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 06 Mar 2014 06:07pm | comments

A sweeping package of reforms to Mississippi's corrections system appears to have the backing of much of the state legislature. MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports the reform proposal cleared the state senate with just three Senators voting against it.

Supporters of House Bill 585 say it will slow the ever growing cost and size of the state prison system.

Mississippi is second in the nation in per capita prison population, and Senator Brice Wiggins of Pascagoula told his colleagues that the omnibus package can help halt that trend.

"Cost of corrections in the state of Mississippi is continually going up. If we don't do anything 266-million dollars will be the cost to the state. This reform package is to bring down those costs while protecting public safety," Wiggins said.

The package touches many areas of the prison system including new minimums for the amount of a prison term offenders must serve, expanded use of non-prison punishments, and a focus on rehabilitating drug users while increasing penalties for drug dealers.

There was only modest opposition to the overhaul package from the Senate with just three senators casting a 'no' vote.

One of them was Senator Josh Harkins of Flowood who says the Rankin County sheriff has concerns that the savings to state are merely being shifted to the counties.

"One of the things he is concerned about are the cost to the county. It is a saving to the state but he is looking at things from a county perspective," Harkins said.

The senate approved a bill that offered only minor changes to the language...changes that Senator Wiggins does not think will pose a problem to its final passage.

The house, which originally approved the bill 106-to-7, now has the option to agree to the changes or work on a compromise bill.

The bill is a main center piece of governor Phil Bryant's legislative agenda.




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