Article Comment 

Letter to the Editor: Corrections commissioner responds to Judge Kitchens' comments

 

Christopher Epps, Corrections Commissioner for Mississippi

 

With regards to the article entitled "Judge Kitchens frustrated with state sentencing laws" which ran in your paper on June 9, 2012, 1 would like to offer additional information and facts that were not covered in the story. The task before MDOC daily is to provide quality security, custody, control and care to 22,000 offenders currently locked up and an additional 38,503 offenders under the supervision of community corrections. 

 

It is very easy to say, that we should lock someone up and throw away, the, key when you aren't the one having to pay for it. MDOC budget for FY 2013 is $339,130,424. We have one of the lowest cost-per-day per inmate in the nation. There is no way to cut any more from that number without releasing additional offenders.  

 

This is a huge burden for the taxpayers of Mississippi already, but what if that number was doubled in order to accommodate the longer prison sentences Judge Kitchens wants to have served? In regards to the letter from community corrections, our officers must make decisions daily to assist us as an agency in carrying out our mission. MDOC must balance the number of offenders entering and exiting the system through various programs such as Earned Release Supervision. Even with the release programs, MDOC still gained 402 inmates in FY 2011 and 613 inmates so far during FY 2012. Mississippi is second in the nation behind Louisiana in the number of people per capita incarcerated (Per 100,000 residents, the national imprisonment rate is 439, Mississippi's rate is 686, only second to Louisiana's 867). 

 

The article suggests that there is no punishment or consequences to the actions of people, under supervision. This is not the case at all. There are different levels of violations and also alternative means of punishment that do not include prison. To use Judge Kitchens analogy, when the children play in the street, we do give them a spanking, but Judge Kitchens is implying that if the children are caught playing in the street, they should be grounded for life. There is a difference.  

 

It is through these types of supervision and other offender programs that Mississippi has seen a decline in the recidivism rate which has dropped from 34% to 27% over the past four years. The national recidivism is 52% over a three-year period. Mississippi has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the nation. 

 

ACA Standard 4-APPFS-2B-11 addresses sanctioning for violations that are handled internally by agencies. According to the standard, when violations occur, alternatives to revocation and incarceration are considered and used to the extent that public safety allows.  

 

MDOC Hearing Officers recommend sanctions other than incarceration to the supervising field officer or to the court. Some alternatives include modification of conditions of supervision, increased intensity of supervision, and placement in drug/alcohol treatment. Sentencing orders will always be followed and all recommendations will be brought to the attention of the courts/sentencing judges. 

 

There are numerous individuals who I agree should be incarcerated for a long time, if not for the rest of their life. However, there are many people who are able to be supervised through community corrections while they are able to work, go to school and help support their families and also pay taxes, court costs and restitution fines instead of having taxes pay for them. There will always be people who abuse this system, but we cannot afford to lock everyone up in order to prevent a few from causing problems. 

 

There has to be a balance between long term and short-term sentences. MDOC is following the law. 

 

Christopher Epps 

 

Jackson 

 

The writer is corrections commissioner for the state of Mississippi.

 

 

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