In the wake of a flurry of prison suicides, murders and deaths, the national press has focused on the horrible state of Mississippi prisons. Governor Tate Reeves visited Parchman and promised to take action. He proposed better maintenance, jamming cell phone signals, screening guards for gang affiliations, more transparency and investigating corruption. We hope he can succeed.
It's hard to imagine dealing with this crisis without raising prison guard salaries. As it stands, many prisons are operating at 50 percent staffing levels. The Alabama state legislature voted 92-0 this summer to spend an extra $40 million raising prison guard pay. This would be a drastic about face for the Republican leadership, which has consistently cut prison spending over the last eight years.
Meanwhile, a Newton man, charged with a misdemeanor, who was not even searched before being locked up, was given a 12-year sentence for having a cell phone in his cell. He didn’t even know this was against the law, having asked the guard how to charge it.
Mindless sentences like this are one reason Mississippi has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world. If Republicans don’t want to spend any money, they will have to figure out a way to not sentence people for 12 years in prison for minor crimes.