Mississippi Hops Aboard the De-Incarceration Train

Mississippi has just become the latest state to roll back overly tough criminal sentences, promote alternatives to incarceration for criminal offenders and invest in re-entry programs for former prisoners. Their reform process was similar to that of South Carolina: An independent commission was appointed to gather and analyze data, review the state’s entire approach to criminal sentencing and develop a new framework for criminal justice. The commission’s recommendations were then submitted to the state legislature, where they drew strong bipartisan support.

Some people are surprised that reducing the size of the prison population has become a priority in conservative states like South Carolina, Mississippi and South Dakota. But it’s a pluperfect conservative cause. The Evangelical Christian community has long been active in prisons, promoting the value of rehabilitation coupled with mercy over endless punishment. For their part, anti big-government conservatives see prisons as a massive, costly and inefficient government bureaucracy that has for too long been shielded from tough questions regarding effectiveness.

Given that the public’s fear of crime has dropped dramatically (for good reason) and liberal politicians are also generally skeptical of mass incarceration, conservative support for prison reform will help ensure that the U.S. continues on its welcome and accelerating trend away from over-incarceration.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.