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MS prison problems: inmates serving time on your dime

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JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

Thousands of prisoners are serving time on the state's dime. Now the question is where can Mississippi save without risking public safety.

"The growth of the cost of incarceration will soon outpace the revenue. It is growing second only to Medicaid in the costs to the state of Mississippi and in the costs to the United States," explained Governor Phil Bryant.

The 21-member task force looked at ways to bridge the gap between the courts and the prisons. Department of Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps says the problems that put the state at number two for incarceration rates will keep piling on without change.

"We could replace Louisiana as number one if we don't plan and act now. Not tomorrow but now," said Epps.

Sentencing is where the report starts. They hope minimums will be enforced.

Governor Bryant said, "Make sure we put the victims first. Make sure we have public safety in mind. But to spend taxpayer money wisely when it comes to incarcerating violent offenders and see if there are opportunities for those non-violent."

It's those who have big amounts of drugs that the state wants to crack down on.

"If you've got that much amount of drugs in your possession, you're a dealer and you're going to get a minimum day for day, you're not eligible for early release," said task force member Representative Andy Gipson.

There's a strong push toward alternative sentences like drug courts for non-violent offenders.

Mississippi prisons are crowded. But the state thinks there are ways to cut costs and keep offenders from winding up back in the system once they're out.

Governor Bryant plans to make public safety the focus of next year's legislative session. He thinks the task force recommendation will be a good starting point.

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