National justice reform program launched in Forrest, Perry counties

Mississippi's 12th Circuit Court is one of three jurisdictions in the nation to launch an evidence based pilot program to determine what works in rehabilitating people who have violated the law.

United States District Judge Keith Starrett says the program  has been adopted and affirmed by every major criminal justice agency in the nation.

"It will reduce crime, it will lower taxpayers costs, and it will turn people's lives around," said Starrett. "It's that big of a deal."

The program was developed with a grant from the Office of National Drug Court Policy. Its mission is two-fold: ensure community safety and reduce prison population.

"It's based on the risk to the public and the needs of the offender," said Circuit Court Judge Bob Helfrich.

It's a way of evaluating the individual needs of criminals- whether that is jail time or rehabilitation.

"You do a risk-needs analysis on these folks, and then you put them where they need to go," explained Starrett. "It's not a cookie cutter program."

Mississippi has the second highest incarceration rate in the country. Governor Phil Bryant recently signed House Bill 585 into law that makes the state's criminal system both more efficient and less expensive, and Starrett says the new law is a start and the pilot program goes hand in hand.

"We're locking up a lot of people in Mississippi, and some of them don't need to be locked up, frankly, and some of them are getting locked up for too long," said Starrett.

Jurisdictions in Utah and Vermont were also selected to launch this program.

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