JACKSON (AP) — A top state lawmaker wants Mississippi to lock up fewer people and cut prison spending in the process.
House Corrections Chairman George Flaggs, a Vicksburg Democrat, said that many inmates would be better off confined at home and monitored electronically. He said inmates with drug problems could be treated at home.
"I just think we've got too many people in our system who just have a drug problem," Flaggs said. "I think they're better served at home getting some kind of treatment with just an electronic bracelet."
Flaggs spoke Monday at a luncheon sponsored by Mississippi State University's Stennis Institute of Government and the Capitol press corps.
He also called for guidelines to equalize sentencing among judges, and suggested that first-time felons should have a way to get their convictions expunged, allowing them to find work more easily.
"I'm leaning toward a comprehensive reform bill for prisons," Flaggs said. "You've got to reduce costs to the taxpayer and keep them safe."
He said prison spending has more than doubled in the last 15 years, rising to $333 million in the budget year that just ended. Even at that, he said the Corrections Department would end the year with a $30 million deficit, which the Legislature will have to make up when it meets in 2013.
Department spokeswoman Tara Booth confirmed the deficit, saying it stems from a growing prison population, which has risen to nearly 22,000 people. Mississippi trails only Louisiana in the rate at which it incarcerates people.
Flaggs said he believed he could work with House Judiciary B Committee Chairman Andy Gipson, R-Braxton, to come up with changes to sentencing laws. He said the Legislature's decision to close the Columbia Training School and reduce the number of children held in the juvenile justice system is an example of what can be achieved. The school was closed in 2008, years after an investigation found that girls being detained there were abused.