The Mississippi Senate today passed House Bill 585, an omnibus bill that includes Gov. Phil Bryant's bipartisan criminal justice reform priorities. The bill passed the full House in February, and the measure will return to that chamber for further consideration.
Gov. Bryant announced his comprehensive reform priorities in December 2013; the reforms were developed as the result of a bipartisan task force effort that included consultation with the Public Safety Performance Project of The Pew Charitable Trusts.
"We know that Mississippi must make changes to its criminal justice system if we are to ensure that we are tough on crime while also being smart with taxpayer dollars," Gov. Phil Bryant said. "These policies put the victim first while curbing escalating criminal justice costs. I thank both the House and the Senate for their leadership on this important issue, and I look forward to final action on the bill."
The bill also included an amendment to establish a separate veterans treatment court system. This court system would function similarly to the state's existing drug court system, which provides treatment and sentencing options for certain drug offenders.
"These veterans treatment courts will provide a valuable service to the men and women who have served this country and want to get back on track," Gov. Bryant said. "They, more than most, deserve this second chance, and I thank Rep. Andy Gipson for including the amendment to establish these courts."
The reforms are the result of work by a bipartisan, inter-branch Task Force, which was backed by Governor Phil Bryant, Lt. Governor Tate Reeves, House Speaker Phillip Gunn, and Chief Justice William Waller, and chaired by Corrections Commissioner Christopher Epps. The task force spent six months studying Mississippi's corrections and criminal justice systems, analyzing data, and consulting criminal justice officials from across the state to develop comprehensive recommendations.
In the last decade Mississippi's prison population has grown by 17 percent, topping 22,600 inmates in July. The state has the second highest imprisonment rate in the nation, costing taxpayers $339 million last year. Absent policy change, prison expenditures will increase by $266 million over the next decade.
The Task Force's consensus package averts all the projected 10-year prison growth; saving the state a minimum of $266 million dollars in otherwise required spending.
The Task Force recommendations target five objectives:
* Ensure certainty and clarity in sentencing.
* Expand judicial discretion in imposing alternatives to incarceration.
* Focus prison beds on violent and career offenders.
* Strengthen supervision and interventions to reduce recidivism.
* Establish performance objectives and measure outcomes.