The US has about 5% of the world's population but 25% of the world's prisoners. Gee, sounds like we're a nation of outlaws! However, for the first time since 1972, 2009 showed a decrease in state prison populations. And Mississippi is leading the way.
Why is this happening? The Great Recession has forced states to try less costly, and often more effective, solutions to the previous "lock 'em up and throw away the key" attitude.
Two years ago, Mississippi was facing a prison population that had almost doubled since 1972 - and serious budget shortfalls at the same time. So they revisited their "truth in sentencing" laws, allowing nonviolent offenders to be released earlier under certain conditions. The Legislature also made some other thoughtful changes. All these efforts paid off, with the state showing one of the sharpest declines in prison populations in the country. Plus, there was no accompanying increase in crime, as feared by some.
According to a 50 state survey released Wednesday (March 17) by the Pew Center on the States:
"The move put Mississippi at the leading edge of a major national change, one that appears to be the result of teeming prisons, a deep recession, and changing attitudes toward corrections. For the first time in 38 years, state prison populations declined in 2009."It's not often that you hear the words "Mississippi" and "leading edge" in the same sentence. So let's celebrate.