Debate Rages on Criminal Justice Law

Mississippi now has the second-highest imprisonment rate in the country, trailing only Louisiana.

State legislators are working to combat that expense to taxpayers through Mississippi House Bill 585, which was signed into law by the governor just a few months ago. But at what cost?

The purpose of HB 585 is to allow the state to get control of corrections spending while maintaining public safety.

"We're on a track now to spend $266 million more if we don't get control," Snowden says. "We want to get control in a way that protects public safety, so there's really a dual purpose to the legislation."

PEW Research finding show the prison population is expected to grow by almost 2,000 in the next decade. And the new law looks to cut costs through imprisoning fewer people. But Sollie is concerned this could be a dangerous mindset.

"What we're looking at is more people are going to be released and fewer people are going to be incarcerated," the sheriff explains.

The law uses more prison alternatives like ankle monitors as punishment.

Rep. Snowden says he doesn't believe all criminals need to be behind bars. It's the violent offenders, which is what this law defines. But Sheriff Sollie says recent cases like that of Marvin Horn and Eric Nash in Meridian prove otherwise.

"Chris Epps, who's our corrections commissioner, maybe said it best," Snowden says. "He said we've got to decide who we're mad at and who we're afraid of."

"Our system is broke," Sollie says. "Where our legislature is dictating that we've got to change our policy on housing people. Our court systems are backlogged."

The law takes effect July 1.