For years now, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas have been competing for the dubious distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in America. A new report commissioned by the ACLU of Mississippi asks why the Magnolia state’s prison population has exploded in recent years. According to the report:
Mississippi has the second highest incarceration rate in the nation, at 749 prisoners per 100,000 residents. Between 1994 and 2007 the state’s incarceration rate ballooned by 105 percent, compared to just 46 percent for the nation as a whole and 51 percent for the Southern region. During that same period, prison expenditures by the state of Mississippi grew by 155 percent. By mid year 2008, Mississippi’s prison population had reached a record high of 22,764.
This astonishing increase in incarceration was spurred by one of the country’s most draconian “truth-in-sentencing” laws. In 1995, Mississippi embraced “truth-in-sentencing” by eliminating parole, whether the crime was violent or nonviolent, requiring all prisoners to serve at least 85 percent of their prison term. The new law was enacted with little consideration of the long-term effect it would have on the state’s prison population.
The ACLU report focuses particular attention on the growth of federally funded narcotics task forces and the abuse of confidential informants. While most of the report simply reminds us that Mississippi, like every other state in the nation, has become a drug war battleground, the Mississippi-Louisiana-Texas nexus is clearly a worst case scenario. Highly recommended reading for those in search of an explanation.