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.

[Cross-posted at the The Reality-Based Community]

Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. He served as a senior policy advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2009 to 2010.