Jackson’s crime problem not only impacts the city, it impacts the entire state.

As we talked about in a previous story from our look into Jackson this week, Mississippi’s capitol city has seen a disturbing spike in violent crime. But what can we do about it?

Just send more people to jail?

Usually when people discuss issues of crime and discouraging crime, the idea of longer prison sentences is floated. But this idea goes against evidence that points to what works and what is recommended by corrections officials.  

Prison should work to reform people who want to turn their lives around and separate those who don’t want to be reformed from the rest of society. However, without incentives to participate in any programming, people who would truly want to turn their lives around leave incarceration worse than when they entered.

Incarceration used as a means to deter crime is a myth. 

Research proves that people are more influenced by whether they will be caught at all and whether they will be convicted quickly. Swift and certain sanctions deter crime better than long periods of incarceration.

Many states have proven they can reduce both crime and incarceration in the last decade. 

Here are some real solutions that would help alleviate some of Jackson’s crime issues. 

Prioritize diversion and treatment.

Currently, people with addiction issues and those convicted of serious violent offenses are treated much in the same way – they’re sent to the same jail and prosecuted criminally, then they serve time in prison and time on supervision afterwards. 

The problem with this approach for people who struggle with addiction is that drug usage is rampant in prison. The city and state are paying to incarcerate someone for using drugs, while they continue to use drugs in jail and after release. There’s a better way to address this problem by implementing treatment diversion programs that connect people with drug treatment programs.

These have been successfully implemented in jurisdictions around the country, and are proven to be more effective than the traditional approach. 

Focus supervision resources on serious offenses. Place a maximum cap on probation lengths and reduce the number of people jailed and imprisoned for minor technical violations. 

Currently, probation and parole agents are massively overloaded, having to supervise over a hundred people each. This makes it impossible for them to adequately supervise people. Some people are on probation or parole for up to five years, although research shows that most crimes are committed within the first two years. Capping probation times at three years could allow officers to provide more supervision to those who most need it.  

And focus resources of people with serious offenses by eliminating imprisonment for technical violations. 

Prioritize jail space for people who pose a danger to public safety. 

By focusing on serious offenses, the city can reduce the number of people jailed for petty misdemeanors.

As Gov. Phil Bryant discussed in his State of the State address earlier this year: Reforms might be labeled soft on crime, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Conservative states around the country have pioneered this approach, and Mississippi would do well to learn from them. 

Jackson does not have to have a crime problem just because it’s a large city. Over the previous two decades, we have seen cities revitalized and made safer. A very important step in that process is making residents, or potential residents, feel safe. 

By continuing to implement smart reforms, we can make Jackson, and every city in the state, safer.

This week, Mississippi Center for Public Policy will be looking into the underlying reasons as to why Jackson is struggling, exploring the legislative and regulatory climate which encourages migration and business stagnation both within our capital city, and across the state.