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Lawmakers may consider law change or more prison funding

A dim picture was painted last week of the Mississippicorrectional system, one that will require taxpayers to dig a bitdeeper into their pockets.

Speaking to the Brookhaven Kiwanis Club, Mississippi Departmentof Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps spoke of overcrowding issuesthat may force the Legislature into extra funding for the prisonsystem’s $327 million budget.

Epps told the group that with 22,258 inmates are currentlyhoused in Mississippi prisons and another 28,000 are on housearrest, parole or probation. While he said the state’s dailyhousing cost was the lowest in the nation, the cost is everincreasing and one that taxpayers will be obligated to cover.

One of the problems the commissioner said was the current lawthat requires an 85 percent completion of an inmate’s sentence.Some 15,000 of the current inmate population, according to Epps,are non-violent offenders.

In Epps’ words, Mississippi needs to decide, “who we’re mad withand who we’re afraid of.” Epps suggested the state might be betterserved with more Drug Courts and more non-violent offenders onparole or house arrest.

With the 2008 session of the Legislature only a month away, itwill be interesting to see if legislators are interested inreviewing the current system or throwing more money at a growingproblem.