Fault Lines
23 August 2017

Mississippi Blows Millions Jailing the Release-Eligible

January 26, 2017 (Fault Lines) — Stories about the poor being incarcerated for being poor aren’t unusual.  A Tennessee judge jailing people so a buddy with an ankle-monitoring business can get paid.  A Michigan judge locking up those who can’t afford fines.  Even Arkansas, a mere step above Mississippi, runs an unconstitutional collections court. (And in the city of Sherwood! Arkansas is not known for its sense of irony.)

People who live in Arkansas, you know what their favorite state is? … Mississippi. Cause Mississippi’s the only thing that keeps Arkansas from being the worst state in the whole country.

— Twins, Annapolis (2006)

Less frequently discussed, but with equally real consequences, are the obscene sums of money bled from local taxpayers to keep their jails and prisons running.  The kind folks of Durham NC, for example, pay $110 per inmate per night for the Durham County Jail; more per guest than most neighboring hotels, for a jail where 73% of detainees have not been convicted of a crime.

Mississippi is having that discussion after this analysis in Jackson’s Clarion-Ledger showed the state wasting millions of taxpayer dollars each year housing inmates who are eligible for release.

As a preface, it’s worth remembering that Mississippi is by far the poorest state in the country, with a per capita income dwarfed not only by the national average, but even by 49th place Arkansas.

 

With such an impoverished citizenry, it would be rational to think policymakers would be prudent in how they spend the money taxed away from their already-poor constituents.

It turns out your rationality would be misplaced.

Hundreds of Mississippians granted parole each year are forced to spend extra time in prison, costing the taxpayers millions.  If those behind bars lack an “approved address” as required under the law, they must stay there, explained Steve Pickett, chairman of the state Parole Board.

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For instance, a nonviolent offender with a 10-year sentence could be paroled after serving 25 percent of his time, or two and a half years – if he had an approved address.  But if that same offender lacks such an address, he would spend eight years behind bars.

Homeless before you’re convicted?  You don’t get released.

Have the misfortunate of becoming homeless as a result of the prison stint? You don’t get released either.

And the costs for housing all those inmates without an “approved address” add up quickly.

Corrections Commissioner Marshall Fisher said there are currently 191 paroled offenders having to stay in prison because they don’t have an “approved address” for a home or a place to go.  Over a year, that costs taxpayers $3.44 million, based on the state Department of Corrections’ average cost of caring for inmates.

That’s $3,440,000.00 or more that could be dedicated to schools or roads or any of a thousand other alternatives more useful to Mississippi’s citizens.

Money that could even be dedicated to halfway housing that would provide an approved address:

Last year, 8,154 Mississippians left prison, but few places exist to help them transition back into society.  After the closing last year of the 60-bed halfway house by Mississippi Prison Industries Corp., two transitional houses remain for the entire state. Together, they provide 120 beds.

Even someone with a Mississippi public education can recognize that 191 inmates without “approved addresses” is a bigger number than the 120 halfway-house beds available.

But if you thought blowing $3.5 million in taxpayer money on incarceration each year was bad enough, you clearly don’t understand how jealously Mississippi guards its reputation.

Mississippi also requires those paroled to spend an extra 15 days in prison so that victims can be notified – even if there are no victims. [State Parole Board Chairman Steve] Pickett said he agrees 100 percent that victims need to be notified, but noted that fewer than 10 percent actually have registered victims, which means “90 percent are having to stay 15 days beyond their parole eligibility.”  That extra cost to taxpayers? About $239,000 a month, or $2.86 million a year, according to Parole Board figures.

How grotesque is it that more than 90% of Mississippi’s incarcerated are locked up for (admitted!) victimless crimes?

How comically absurd is it that Mississippi keeps those 90% locked up for two extra weeks anyway, to “notify” victims that don’t exist?

And how obscene is it that Mississippi lawmakers would rather waste $2,860,000.00+ each year on notifying those phantoms than on fixing schools?

There is quite a bit more in the Clarion-Ledger story, and you should give the full thing a read.  And if you have the misfortune of living in Mississippi as you read this, send a copy of the story to your legislators.  They have 6.3 million reasons to do better.

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  • Fault Lines Friday Fail
    3 February 2017 at 12:28 pm - Reply

    […] of the week, as brought to you by the Fault Lines contributors. Last week’s “winner” was the State of Mississippi for continually jailing release-eligible inmates without an “approved address.” Check out this […]