The First Step Act will provide meaningful reform to our criminal justice system at the federal level, similar to what we have experienced in Mississippi. We know from a long history of being one of the nation’s top incarcerators that the blunt instrument of a long sentence does little to improve the conditions of our state’s communities.
The research shows that locking up low-level offenders does not produce better public safety outcomes than effective probation tools and workforce partnerships. We also know that time in prison breaks family bonds and makes it next to impossible for a person to hold down a job. That’s a bad outcome for all of us. Instead, we should be using what we know works to move people out of the system and toward productive, law-abiding lives.
Over the past three years, Mississippi has enacted a number of key reforms. During this time, the prison population has declined by more than 10 percent, driven by a reduction in prison use for non-violent offenses. At the same time, our state’s prisons are more focused on violent offenders, who now occupy 63 percent of prison beds, as opposed to 56 percent prior to reform. Today, the property crime rate has decreased by 5 percent, while violent crime has remained at a historic low.
Mississippi, like many other states, has seen the benefits of smart criminal justice reform policies. We are confident similar results can be found at the federal level.
Read the full letter to Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) here.