There's quite a difference in counting the votes
between the systems in Louisiana and Mississippi
Voter ID laws have been challenged
because liberal Democrats deem them racist. I guess that's because they see
blacks as being incapable of acquiring some kind of government-issued
The Miss-Lou’s breaking news:
Christmas parades are scheduled. Tri-parish
jobs picture looks worse. Sex predator asks for permission to travel.
Natchez Judge Jim Blough and the mayor and aldermen clash over collection
The Advice Goddess:
Getting the chills the moment you set
eyes on a person may be a sign that you have love at first sight -- or an
incipient case of malaria. In time, you'll find out whether you have lasting
love or lasting liver damage, seizures, and death.
Terry Savage on money:
Social Security benefits can be
confusing enough, and when you get into the rules and regulations concerning
ex-spouses, they're potentially even more so.
McAllister on health:
Ginger does more than just add a snap
of flavor to foods and beverages. For centuries, the root of the plant has
been used as a remedy for a variety of illnesses ranging from the common
cold to cancer.
Thomas Sowell thinking clearly:
Many people may share Senator Bernie Sanders' complaint that he was tired of
hearing about Hillary Clinton's e-mails. But the controversy is about issues
far bigger than e-mails.
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Tourists and pilgrims welcome:
Cool weather is here to stay.
Now's the time to visit
and Vidalia to sample Southern history and hospitality.
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More good writing:
Read more news and commentary on
www.natchezsunxpress.com. Find our print edition of
Miss-Lou Magazine on www.missloumagazine.com.
Declining Prison Population
motivations are different, but the result is the same.
President Obama is happy about a decrease of 6,000
people in federal prisons nationwide. The rationale is that these people are
nonviolent drug offenders from the 1980s and 1990s whose sentences were
unduly harsh in the first place.
inmate population has dropped by 3,000 people over the past several months
— by far the fastest decline of any state. The rationale, though, is
that prisons cost too much money.
It is a remarkable and largely unheralded change.
Long the leader in incarceration — or neck and neck with Louisiana — the number of people in state
custody has fallen from 21,743 in January 2014 to 18,939 last week.
What’s going on?
Texas-tested changes in approaches
to locking people up were adopted, albeit quietly, by the Mississippi
Legislature in 2014. Several other states did much the same. The legislation
was handled with no fanfare. (Just about the worst thing to say about a
legislator seeking re-election is that he or she is soft on crime. No
incumbent wanted to wear that label.)
The process was started by Gov. Phil Bryant when he
appointed a task force on prison reform early in his first term. That
commission (which preceded the more recent commission appointed in response
to top-level corruption) issued a rather straightforward report. The
Legislature, for the most part, followed the recommendations.
There are some twists and turns, but the essence
centers on (1) dividing crimes into violent and nonviolent categories, (2)
more community-based corrections and (3) a pledge for more post-release
monitoring and assistance. All track the findings of scholarly studies
conducted over many years in the Public Safety Performance Project of the
private Pew Charitable Trusts.
Bryant was adamant about violent offenders. No
break for them. But for those who really haven’t hurt anyone but themselves,
there are lesser maximum sentences and earlier opportunities for release.
The community-based aspect includes wider use of
drug courts, which require that people who admit their crimes and admit
their addictions undergo monitored treatment with the looming threat of
being locked up. It also involves alternatives such as house arrest.
The post-release changes are related to the fact
that a third of the people in prison have been there before — the so-called
revolving door syndrome. Finding ways to help former inmates stay out of
trouble is a lot cheaper than locking them up again.
It’s not nice to gloat —
but Mississippi doesn’t get
many chances to be No. 1. The reduction in the inmate tally here is 13
percent. The federal reduction is a mere 3 percent.
Amazing numbers have
some with the 35-year-long surge in locking people up here and nationwide.
The federal Bureau of Prisons was home to 25,000 people in 1980. Even after
the first round of federal releases, the number will be at 200,000, still a
700 percent increase.
tracked the national trend, started by President Nixon’s 1971 declaration of
a War on Drugs and amplified by former Gov. Kirk Fordice’s 1995 Truth In
Official figures today say it costs taxpayers
$17,177 per year to house and feed a
inmate. That puts the price tag of a 20-year sentence, assuming no
inflation, at a third of a million dollars.
For this fiscal year, Senate Bill 2855 allocated
$333 million for prison operations, which is a third of a billion dollars.
And unlike so many other spending categories — Medicaid, roads, education —
there is no federal match or supplement. Hard time costs hard dollars.
New Corrections Commissioner Marshall Fisher (who
got the job when his predecessor was arrested for and later pleaded guilty
to federal felonies) is square-jawed and straightforward. He’s made some
friends and some foes in his first year in the role, but no one doubts his
For one thing, he wants higher standards and better
pay for corrections officers.
For another, while corrections is costly to
taxpayers, it’s lucrative to the private prisons in the state that are
guaranteed a return on their investment.
What about the other thing? The effect of all these
criminals being back on the streets? That’s interesting, too.
the first state to adopt the Pew reforms, has actually recorded a decrease
in violent crime by making smarter use of its cell space.
is middle-of-the-pack among the 50 states when it comes to violent crime
rates. Being “smarter on crime” as opposed to “soft on
crime” might lead to better scores on that, too.
Charlie Mitchell is a
Mississippi journalist. Write to him at